After the Newtown massacre, the NRA was faced with a huge problem. Its leadership had to find a position that showed they cared about ending gun violence, while assuring their members that nothing was going to change in the gun-law arena. Their solution was a public relations winner — just blame the mentally ill for the violence. Many Americans still harbor some uneasiness about mental illness, and, how could liberals complain when they have been demanding more mental heath treatment for years?
Besides the alternatives were pretty unpalatable. The NRA could agree to further restrictions on weapons, or, they could jump on board with the tinfoil-hat crowd which thinks the federal government has a secret plan to confiscate about 300 million weapons from about 100 million different locations all in one surprise move, or, they could blame movies and video games. They did do a little bit of the last two, but soon settled on the mentally ill. To paraphrase a quote often attributed to NRA officials, “Guns don’t kill people — mentally ill people kill people.”
The Feb. 7 Herald, however, printed an article (“Ore. Senate leader calls for tax for mental health”) that essentially calls the NRA’s bluff. The Oregon Senate President Peter Courtney, D-Salem, has proposed a tax increase to raise a substantial amount of money for mental health treatment. What will the NRA do? Now that the organization has labeled mental illness as a major public safety issue, will it support the tax increases intended to improve treatment and presumably improve public safety? Or will the other major conservative bugbear — holding the line on taxes — take precedence?
The NRA’s position that mental illness is a public safety concern raises a whole host of issue for conservatives and liberals alike. What do you do with people who either refuse to attend, or, fail to benefit from mental health treatment? Are we going to return to the bad old days of indefinite commitment for large numbers of our citizens in mental institutions, even though they were never charged with a crime? Does the Second Amendment right to bear arms supersede the Fifth Amendment right to due process? I hope not.
Stand by. The public debate has only just begun now that Oregon is taking the NRA’s position and running with it.
Francis J. Lynch