In light of the recent mass shootings taken place in the United States of America, the debate on gun control has, once again, become a center stage issue in politics. The two primary reactions have been: stricter gun control on the left and a greater focus on mental health care on the right. Both parties vehemently argue over the necessary measures to reduce the growing trend and frequency of gun violence in The States. As with most topics in the modern US political climate, the divisions and opinions held by both parties seem to have greater relevance in defining the party. Instead of making concessions and working together to solve a significant problem, it has once again become an ideological wrestling match—where posturing of irrational dogmas make it impossible to progress in any feasible manner. The comedy, or tragedy, of it all is that both are completely correct—to a degree. The volume of undocumented and unregistered guns makes them remarkably accessible to dangerous and suspect individuals. On the other hand, since the deinstutionalization of the mentally ill, and the severe lack of funding and recourses for mental health, violence and homelessness have substantially increased.
Being that both arguments are pressing and valuable to the cause, it is difficult to really logically favor one over the other. Yet, there is certainly one side that seems to derivate from the party’s history: which is the Conservative answer to put more focus on mental health. It was the Conservative's legacy, beginning in the early 70’s and most considerably in the 80’s, to cut funding and aid to mental health institutions. By the 80’s the government’s complete sequestration of mental health care had a dramatic effect in communities across the US—ones that we are now paying for today.
Beginning with the Community Mental Health Act, signed by John F. Kennedy in 1963— which was to provide funding for community based preventive care and treatment facilities—the attention towards mental health care changed from (essentially) imprisoning patients in horrifying wards to bringing patients back into the care of the community. After the failure of maintaining humane asylums and many sociologists' and psychologists' research on the ineffectiveness of these institutions, it became clear that it was necessary to reform the mental health system. Over the course of a few years, the patients were placed in impoverished communities and private companies took advantage of the housing. With the lack of government aid, implementing the new community centers became as futile as the asylums.
After more defunding of mental health programs and the developing crisis of homelessness, incarceration, and violence perpetuated by the neglected mentally ill, President Carter attempted to provide more funding through the Mental Health Systems Act of 1980. Yet, losing out on the election verses conservative icon Ronald Reagan, his act was immediately repealed in 1981 by the new president and congress with the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act. This ended the government’s role in providing services to mental health care. Since then, the next most significant cut was signed in 2009 which was to cut over $4 billion in aid more in the course of three years.
The US Political Right’s desire to deflect discussion on gun control with the focus on mental health is paradoxical. If they are indeed serious about reforming the current state of mental health they would be contradicting the concept of less government spending, which providing mental health care would require. They must reconcile the fact that it was their defunding that may have resulted in the rise in violence and lack of care in the first place.
The irony of gun control and mental health illuminates the atrophic and irrational state of affairs within the current US political system. It mostly comments on the reactionary form of politics in which neither historical accounts or thoughtful policy inform hot-button issues.