By Betsy Cribb
National and local law enforcement officials support gun ownership for most, but not all, citizens.
Many are concerned that people with mental health problems can get their hands on guns – and that there are few public resources to address that issue.
Lexington Police Chief Al Thomas said he believes there is a connection between gun violence and mental health issues.
“If you look at the violence that our nation has been faced with recently, the majority of violators have some type of mental health disorder,” Thomas said. “I think that’s where we need to expand our attention.”
Thomas said proper mental health treatment could have possibly prevented the mass shootings last year at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., and at a movie theater in Aurora, Colo.
Virginia Tech University shooter Seung-Hui Cho also had a history of mental health issues.
Washington and Lee University campus psychiatrist Kirk Luder said mental illness is treated in two ways: medication and psychosocial rehab, which helps individuals develop coping strategies.
But Luder said there isn’t sufficient public money to provide all individuals with the mental health treatment they need.
“With every legislation, funding [has been] trimmed back,” Luder said. “Funding has dried up.”
Rockbridge Area Community Services is one mental health treatment provider that has had to cut corners when providing treatment, Luder said.
Rockbridge Sheriff Chris Blalock said he worries about this decrease in mental health treatment and that people with mental illness can access guns—guns that he believes Americans do have the constitutional right to own.
“It’s a balancing act between the right to own guns and keeping those guns out of the hands that shouldn’t have them,” Blalock said.
Sandy Hook shooter Adam Lanza used a gun that his mother legally owned and two more to kill 27 people and himself. One assault weapon was a semiautomatic Bushmaster .223 military-style rifle.
“I hate for those [police officers] to go out and to have to face these assault weapons,” Blalock said. “The people they’re dealing with are better armed than they are.”
Thomas said some people shouldn’t own guns, but taking away citizens’ Second Amendment rights in rural Virginia is out of the question.
“The rich tradition of father-son and father-daughter to go out and go hunting and dads teaching their kids about weapons and safety … that’s almost sacred in some parts of the country,” Thomas said.
Law enforcement officials addressed gun control recently at the National Sheriffs’ Association’s winter conference in Washington, D.C.
Held from Jan. 28 to Feb. 2, the conference brought together sheriffs from across the nation for workshops, seminars and training.
During the conference, the association released a statement on gun control in support of Second Amendment rights and called for improved mental health treatment.
Information also from the Associated Press.