Is gun control really the answer? Time to look at mental health issues

By Cheyanne Wingo |

Looking at the beautiful campus of The Episcopal School of Jacksonville, with its classical Greek architecture and sprawling fields of green grass overlooking the St. Johns River, it is hard to imagine the atmosphere being anything but serene.

However, on the morning of March 7, 2012, the sound of gunshots rang through the open-air hallways of my former high school. The community and the campus was tainted with a nearly visible veil of grief that will never be lifted. What should have been a routine termination of a socially awkward 28-year-old Spanish teacher, Shane Schumerth, ended tragically when he returned to campus wielding an AK-47 in a guitar case, murdering the headmaster, Dale Regan, before turning the gun on himself.

While this story is tragic, it unfortunately has become a common one in today’s society.¬†With gun violence on the rise, and a new horror story on the news seemingly every evening, it can be difficult not to lose faith in humanity. However, while gun violence and control are hot topics in Washington right now, the real issue is being overlooked. What would cause a seemingly normal, albeit socially awkward, 28-year-old to do something so deplorable?

Like many of the recent shootings, are mental health issues the real cause?

An astounding 20 percent of the population of the United States is diagnosed with a mental health issue, says the 2010-11 National Survey on Drug Use and Health Model-Based Estimates. That means there are 63 million people in the United States alone with a diagnosed mental health issue. In addition, there are an estimated 8 million people who have serious mental health issues, but receive no treatment due to misdiagnosis or lack of health care.

While gun control is obviously a necessary conversation, we must ask ourselves if it is actually the root cause. Murders did not begin in 1968 with the advent of the semi-automatic assault rifle. They have been happening since the beginning of time. In a society without guns, someone intent on committing murder will do so by any means necessary.

Instead of outlawing guns, why not look at the reason people are feeling so alone and desperate that they decide to walk on to a school campus with an assault rifle? Why are the people who resort to these actions portrayed by the media as murderous monsters when they are in reality a product of our society?

In some ways, they are victims, too. Victims of a society that does not offer a helping hand to those who might need it, but instead labels them social outcasts. Could you even imagine how alone and desperate and ill you would have to be to resort to that type of violence?

By no means am I justifying Schumerth’s actions, or any other person who has committed a similar crime. However, with incidents like the one at the Episcopal School, and more recently at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Ct., becoming more and more prevalent in our society, at what point will we stop blaming people who are ill? At some point, we must start taking responsibility, instead of placing the blame on someone who is mentally ill.

Instead of judging, bullying and ridiculing people who seem ‘different,’ maybe it’s time we start to recognize they need help. They are often the ones who need it the most. It is also imperative that we monitor the behavior of our friends and family, and know the early signs of mental illness in order to help those in need around us. Symptoms include: feelings of extreme highs and lows, excessive fear or anxiety, social withdrawal, changes in eating or sleeping habits, inability to cope with daily issues, unexplained physical ailments and substance abuse. If you notice these symptoms in a friend or family member, urge them to seek help immediately. You could prevent a potentially lethal situation from happening.

If we, as a society, were as quick to lend a helping hand to people with mental health issues as we are to judge them, these incidents might be much more isolated. Take the time to pay attention to the people around you, not only your friends and family, but acquaintances and strangers as well. We all have the power to change our society and stop tragedies like the one at the Episcopal School of Jacksonville from happening through a little compassion.

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