Hendricks County Flyer, Avon, IN

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Commentary

December 24, 2012

Act on mental illness

Newtown is the latest locale in America to become synonymous with senseless slaughter. The shock and the horror are so intense, it almost guarantees that Congress will act.

There will inevitably be an enormous brouhaha around guns and ammunition, leading to nothing likely to prevent the next massacre. Democrats are talking about a renewed assault-weapon ban and a prohibition on high-capacity magazines. But Adam Lanza could have killed just as indiscriminately with any semiautomatic gun, and if he didn't have a high-capacity magazine, he could simply have reloaded with smaller magazines, something the Virginia Tech and Columbine killers managed to do.

If we are going to have a rush to action, it shouldn't be on guns. It should be on mental illness. It doesn't make for high political drama or emotional cable chatter, but getting treatment for more of the most seriously mentally ill might actually prevent future shootings. Even if it doesn't, it would improve the lives of sick and vulnerable people.

Adam Lanza's mother, Nancy, lived alone with him and, by all accounts, was utterly devoted to her youngest child. Then, one morning he shot her four times in the head. If Lanza was mentally ill, this would accord with the pattern. Parents are the most likely to be victims of the violence of their mentally ill children.

We may never know what the dynamic was in the Lanza home. For too many parents of the mentally ill, though, it goes something like this: Their child becomes withdrawn, delusional, and erratic. If they call the mental-health system, they are told to bring the child in for an appointment and the sick child won't go. If the parents call the cops, the cops show up and say the child doesn't appear to represent a threat to himself or others and they leave. If they take him to the hospital, he is quickly released back to the parents, even if he is admitted. The choice might become living with a deteriorating child increasingly out of his mind or forcing him out of the home and into the streets.

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