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March 24, 2018

3/10/2018 7:30:00 AM
Leaders need to focus on mental health, school security

Yet another incident of mass violence, this time a deadly shooting in Parkland, Fla., has set off a predictable wave of political grandstanding as, sadly, politicians in both parties rush to use the tragedy for their own partisan gain.

Republicans were quick to say the nation needs to focus on school security and the causes of mass murder - nothing wrong with that - but of course that's all talk with no walk: The Republicans never do anything but talk. That's why we still have Obamacare.

Democrats used the tragedy to push their own shop-worn agenda of gun control, so obsessed they are with confiscating guns, never mind that that agenda won't even stop gun attacks much less terrorism using other methods of violence.

President Trump went completely off the rails, suggesting we dispense with the constitution to "take the guns first, go through due process second."

The White House has since walked those remarks back, and all of us should have learned by now to watch what Trump does and not what he says, so we can pretty much put those remarks aside. As The Washington Examiner wrote, the president seems to be negotiating with himself on the issue.

As for the Republicans, Wisconsin provides the perfect example of Republican talk with no walk. After the shooting, Gov. Scott Walker said he just might call a special session of the Legislature to deal with school security - the Assembly has adjourned for the year - but that was more than a week ago and almost a month since the shooting and no special session has been called as of this writing.

By contrast, after Foxconn announced its plans for Wisconsin, it took Walker exactly two days to call a special session to give the company billions of dollars to seal the deal. Just saying.

On the other side of the aisle, the Democrats want action, but it's terrible action they want. What they want, of course, is to take our guns.

Once again, the Democrats are pushing a tired but obvious agenda that amounts to little more than creeping confiscation. They want universal background checks, they want bump stocks and modern sporting rifles banned, they want mandatory waiting periods.

This is the same agenda they always propose after a mass shooting, never mind that these proposals would not have stopped most, if any, of those shootings. The Florida shooter passed a background check, for example, he didn't use a bump stock, and he bought his rifle about a year before the shooting.

The disconnect between what causes a shooter to attack and how that might be prevented, as well as how better to secure our schools, and what the Democrats propose demonstrates their true motive: Not school safety, not focusing on mental health causes and prevention, but a de facto if not outright repeal of the Second Amendment.

To Democrats, all gun owners are to blame for the Florida shooting, and all other mass shootings. All gun owners have blood on their hands because of a psychological flaw - as David Roberts writes, a "propensity for anxiety, fear, and occasionally alarm" - that views gun ownership as necessary and leads to mass gun violence. According to this view, because all gun owners and gun rights advocates block rational restrictions on firearms - translation: the confiscation of every gun in America - they are complicit in every mass murder.

But is gun ownership irrational? Or are armed citizens allies in the fight on crime? Just try to tell the 24-year-old man with a concealed carry license who shot an armed carjacker in Milwaukee last month that his act of self-defense was irrational. Irrational in a city where carjackings have increased by 700 percent since 2014. Just try telling the Milwaukee woman - also with a concealed carry permit - who shot an armed would-be carjacker in 2014 that her self-defense was irrational.

What's irrational are Democratic proposals that would disarm these law-abiding citizens so that only police - who are rarely around at the moment of a crime - and criminals have guns. What's irrational are the fake claims by leftists that there have already been 18 school shootings this year, a number that even The Washington Post called flat wrong, pointing out that that figure includes such things as a suicide in a parked car outside a school that had been closed for seven months, a shooting at a campus sorority event, and two accidental discharges by a police officer and peace officer.

After the Parkland shooting, the Democrats even found a way to use the shooting to call for a tax increase - let schools exceed revenue limits for school security, they propose. That's the same nonsense the state allowed for paying for energy-efficient renovations, which were and are being widely abused as ways to raise taxes through the back door.

Clearly, though, school security needs to be discussed and it needs to be acted upon. It's just that the discussion needs to take place before we hand school districts wads of taxpayer cash.

We don't know what the answer is, and it likely varies by school district, but by all means political and educational leaders and, most important, parents need to focus attention on what it takes to make a school safe. Should teachers be allowed to carry firearms, or not? Should metal detectors be used? Should armed guards be hired? Whatever the case may be, that discussion and that debate needs to happen.

The bottom line is, such a discussion about air safety took place after 9/11, and it has been hugely successful. If we can make air travel safe, surely we can make our schools safe.

The other focus needs to be on the causes of mass violence, specifically terrorism and mental health.

Dealing with terrorism is an issue for another day, but the terrorists have taught us an important lesson: We need to focus on the attackers, and not the weapons they use, for the weapons of choice change depending upon what can be most successfully used and conveniently obtained.

Can't find a gun? Well what about a bomb or a car? Just this week, a man in Beaver Dam blew himself up, likely accidentally, in what police described as apparent bomb-making activity. We don't know what this man was doing or planning, but stronger gun control certainly wouldn't have stopped him, whatever it was.

Luckily, he stopped himself.

And four months before Parkland, at Etowah High School in Woodstock, Ga., police acting on tips prevented an attack by two students. In a search, authorities found an "incendiary device" and an "undetermined powder substance" and the students were believed to be planning a Columbine-style attack, with one big difference: Firearms were not believed to be involved.

Across the world terrorists use many types of weapons, from guns and airplanes and bombs to road vehicles and machetes and poison, and they no doubt have other weapons in the works. We can't ban every conceivable weapon a terrorist or a mentally ill person might use, but we can intercept the terrorist or would-be terrorist, and we can do better in identifying those with mental health challenges who might pose a threat to public safety.

Yes, mental heath is a central cause for concern in all this, but it is a thorny issue, we acknowledge. Those with serious mental health issues must be prevented from accessing firearms, yet it can be very easy for the government to use mental health itself as a pretext for gun confiscation, as President Obama tried to do with Social Security recipients.

Through regulation, Obama tried to have those receiving disability benefits or supplemental income payments and who had someone else managing their finances deemed "mentally defective" and banned from firearm purchases.

So if you wanted to own a gun and you were older, you had better have been good at math. No longer, since Congress and President Trump thankfully rescinded the regulation.

Likewise, laws can have unintentional or overly restrictive consequences. One example comes from a law that bans those convicted of misdemeanor domestic violence from owning a gun, ever.

In a case decided by a state appeals court just last month, a Wisconsin woman was arrested for slapping her ex-boyfriend, who was the father of her child, in an argument with the man and his new girlfriend. She pleaded guilty to misdemeanor disorderly conduct involving domestic violence but tried to withdraw her guilty plea when she realized the consequences it held for gun ownership.

The court wouldn't let her, however, and so she was banned from gun ownership for life, though there was no imminent threat to life in the incident.

That incident was certainly one of domestic violence, misdemeanor though it was. The question is, when do we cross the civil liberties line? When do we cross the police-state threshold, where government uses the most excessive hammers to deal with the most minor infractions?

Recklessly, the court upheld the notion that a fundamental constitutional right can be permanently taken away for a misdemeanor conviction. So, is the constitution worth the paper it is written on?

In an age when a schoolyard fight sends children to jail, but where those prone to tragic violence because of serious mental health issues slip through the cracks, it's a question worth asking.

In Florida, which in real dollars spend 40 percent less on mental health today than it did in 2000, bans on bump stocks and required background checks would certainly not have stopped the Parkland shooting, but a robust mental health system might have, along with stronger investigatory protocols and school security mechanisms.

We have a choice: We can use violence as a pretext for oppressing the innocent and destroying the constitution - for building a police state and confiscating guns - or we can look for the real causes of such violence and engage the nation in a dialogue about mental health and the steps we need to take to deal with those challenges.

God help us if we make the wrong choice.

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