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Guns and Mental Health

Essay by   •  May 1, 2013  •  Essay  •  654 Words (3 Pages)  •  1,043 Views

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Bookending President Obama's State of the Union address on Tuesday, two new television ads by Americans for Responsible Solutions will refocus attention on the profound and not-fully-realized impact of the super PAC's enabled by the Citizens United ruling.

Americans for Responsible Solutions (ARS) is a new gun violence prevention super PAC founded by former Representative Gabby Giffords and her husband Mark E. Kelly. If Ms. Giffords' and Capt. Kelly's January 30 senate testimonies are any indication, the ads will recall the former Arizona representative's horrific gun injuries to advocate for gun reform and send a warning to the historically well-financed gun lobby: we're arming ourselves with unlimited contributions, too.

In its first month, ARS has already raised $1.4 million toward its goal of $20 million by 2014. ARS intends to match both the sway and financial magnitude of the NRA lobby's contributions, $24 million in the 2012 elections. While it is heartening to see super PACs being used to challenge established lobbies and level the playing field in Washington, it remains to be seen is how responsibly ARS will leverage the power of free speech backed by unlimited expenditures and an infallible political icon, Ms. Giffords.

In his Jan 30 Senate testimony, Capt. Kelly spoke for his wife and himself, urging Congress to pass legislation to adopt stricter background checks, lift restrictions on access to public health data on gun violence, and enact stronger penalties for gun traffickers. While we don't take issue necessarily with any of the proposed tactics, what is alarming is Capt. Kelly's equation of America's mentally ill with terrorists and criminals:

"We believe wholly and completely in the Second Amendment of our Constitution - and that it confers upon all Americans the right to own a firearm for protection, collection, and recreation. ... But rights demand responsibility. And this right does not extend to terrorists. It does not extend to criminals. It does not extend to the mentally ill. When dangerous people get guns, we are all vulnerable."

The idea that mental illness should be defined in black-and-white terms and quarantined, not treated, is a major step backward for American public health, the very thing that Americans for Responsible Solutions wants to protect through gun violence legislation.

In practice, mental illness in the context of firearms regulation has been poorly defined and existing restrictions have been difficult to enforce. The federal

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