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Bringing Sanity to the Gun Debate

By Dr. Julia Frank
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(Note: This post was originally written on February 9, 2013.) 

The National Rifle Association and the American Psychiatric Association  displayed remarkable agreement in recent testimony before congress. The NRA has mercifully backed away from equating mental illness with lunacy and evil, as it did immediately after the Newtown massacre. In formal testimony (1/31/2013) the organization called for expanded preventive mental health treatment, reform of commitment laws, and  overriding the privacy standards that separate mental health records from the National Criminal Background Check System. James Scully, testifying for the APA, similarly, pled for greater focus on early intervention/prevention and for implementation of a targeted registry of people with mental illness who should be barred from purchasing firearms. Both groups deplored the glut of violent media that may desensitize children and adolescents to the humanity of victims of violence.

All that is necessary to restore sanity to public debate is for the NRA to sincerely support its more reasonable public positions.  Instead of putting its financial firepower behind the campaign to place armed guards in schools, the organization could finance programs against media violence and promote programs that ensure access to early intervention for people at risk for mental illness. A serious commitment to gun safety would require the NRA to use its political muscle in campaigns to overturn state laws that forbid doctors from recording their discussions with families about gun ownership and to actively support President Obama’s executive ruling that restores the capacity of the CDC to conduct research into the effects and prevention of gun violence. To quote Hamlet, for such strange bedfellows as the APA and the NRA, ‘twould be a “consummation devoutly to be wished.”

Julia Frank, MD, is a professor of psychiatry at the George Washington University School of Medicine. 

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