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Addressing root causes

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It is distressing to admit that shootings of innocent, unsuspecting people in public places have become common. Gun control is the main topic of discussion by those advocating a solution to this societal ailment. Some argue gun control must be tightened. Others believe these times call for individuals to fortify their arms cache in defense. Following is an explanation of my opinion that the gun debate could be moot if the actual root cause of these indiscriminate killings were addressed.

Random violence takes on aspects of a fad among those who harm faultless people. A generation ago, the violently unstable conformed to randomly shooting famous people over a period of nearly 20 years. Victims included John F. Kennedy in 1963, his brother Robert in 1968, Martin Luther King in 1968, Sharon Tate in 1969, John Lennon 1980, and Ronald Reagan 1981.

Today assassins have more of a penchant to strike less famous victims in greater volume; the more care-free and innocent the prey, the better. They are now drawn to commonplace settings like schools and entertainment venues.

All of us share the same horror and determination to stop this vicious craze. Where we differ is in our ideas of how.

Advocates of tighter gun control intend to limit access of weapons to everyone. In theory, a lack of guns in our environment would cut down on gun violence. Strong statistics are supported by places like Australia where peace has increased significantly since they instituted tighter restrictions.

A counter argument to gun control is that making guns (or bump stocks, or any of the various permutations of gun control) illegal, means that firearms will only be owned by criminals. This view is understandable since it is unrealistic to expect that guns will be removed from our environment merely by making them illegal. It just forces them underground.

Instead of concentrating on the details of guns, I submit that people who use guns violently to harm innocent people are not mentally healthy. Therefore, the root cause of mass shootings is mental illness in our society. If all of us were mentally fit, we would not need gun laws and would not experience random, intentional shootings of unsuspecting, innocent people.

Health, whether physical or mental, is not black or white. There is plenty of gray area. Some of us have mild mental ailments, similar to a cold. Others of us have mental illness that is as serious as a broken femur, a ruptured kidney or a gunshot wound. When any of these serious afflictions — whether mental or physical — go untreated they get worse.

The medical community and insurance companies are usually diligent in their efforts to help us heal when we have a physical malady. If a broken bone is not set, that person ends up with bigger problems requiring more of a financial drain on insurance companies. Insurance companies, largely driven by profits and regularly dictating medical necessity, are motivated to solve physical problems that could cost them more to fix down the road.

Mental illness, on the other hand, is not met with the same diligence, expertise or care. When a person does not heal mentally, they typically end up in jails, homeless on the streets, and/or in hospital emergency rooms void of insurance.

Until our society recognizes that our mental health is more essential than our physical health, we will continue to be plagued by gun violence regardless of who has guns, who does not have guns, and what the gun laws are.

There is also a financial gain to all of us in a civilization of more stable mental health. Law enforcement, insurance premiums and the medical community would all become more efficient and less expensive for each of us.

Proposition 63, approved by voters in 2004, generated an excess of $2.5 billion from taxes on millionaires that is sitting in local government coffers. This money is specifically for mental health in counties throughout California. California continues to collect about $2 billion each year from this tax. It is incumbent on our county and state legislators to spend that money in a way that improves mental health in our community.

As taxpayers and citizens we have the right, and the obligation, to ask our county supervisors and state legislators for a plan, including a date of when we will see the results to improvements in homelessness, gun violence, drug rehabilitation and the other troubles in Auburn and Placer County that are a result of poor mental health.

Randi Swisley was born in Auburn, attended local schools and earned a B.S. in computer science from CSU Chico. At Hewlett Packard, Swisley spent 20 years in engineering and management of research and development. She currently serves on Auburn’s Transient-Homeless Task force and Auburn Oversight Committee. She is past president of the League of Women Voters of Placer County, past chairman of the WAC Municipal Advisory Council, past executive committee member of the Placer County Juvenile Justice Commission, and served on the Auburn Technology Commission. Swisley is a member of Auburn’s Sugar Plump Fairies promoting local art and music.