After Arizona, Now What?

Members of Congress and staff members gather to observe a moment of silence for Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., and other shooting victims, Monday, Jan. 10, 2011, on the East Steps of the Capitol on Capitol Hill in Washington. Giffords was shot Saturday in a Tucson shooting rampage that left six people dead. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak) AP Photo/Charles Dharapak

Harry Fuller spent decades in TV news in the San Francisco Bay Area, including stints as General Manager of KPIX-TV (CBS) and News Direcor at TechTV when it was founded in 1998. In 2001 he become Executive Producer for CNBC Europe. He later was the Executive Editor for CNET News.com.

The Arizona massacre reverberates across America's political landscape. There'll be discourse on our public discourse. The rhetoric about the vituperation in America's political rhetoric, the presence of war and violence images--that will go on and on. There's a verbal war about warlike verbiage. It sadly eclipses other crucial issues.

Beyond the real human concern for the real humans directly affected by the massacre and wounded, I can only hope three long-standing American problems, made manifest by the Tucson gunman, will not be ignored.

Mental Health Mess

How many mass killings, with legal weapons wielded by troubled young men do we need before we understand? We need preventive mental health measures. It might be worth a little effort and expense in our violence-prone public culture. What value do we place on innocent lives lost in preventable massacres?

The Jonesboro, Arkansas, massacre in 1998 was not enough.

Columbine High in 1999 was not enough.

Red Lake, Minnesota, was not enough.

Virginia Tech was not enough.

All these and the many more mass shootings in America's recent years share two things: guns and troubled, young shooters. The horrific Tucson massacre was not surprising nor even unforeseeable. It was horrible but seemingly inevitable. This ugly part of American history seems surely to be repeated.

We have almost no mental health system. The Virginia Tech killings are a case study of our entire society ignoring preventable disaster. We build towns on the beach in hurricane country. We treat mental illness like a rare, unpredictable disease. Hurricanes and psychotic behavior are both inevitable. When will we ever learn?

Tucson threatens to be similar to Virginia Tech. In either case were the parents or others close to the gunman able to get preventive treatment? Clear signals of coming violence must be taken seriously. Arizona has over 6.5 million residents. Statistics indicate there are tens of thousands of schizophrenic folks in Arizona.

Some portion of those are potentially violent. Arizona has just one public, modest-sized mental hospital.

If nothing changes in how we deal with mental illness, we just await the next mass shooting.

Guns

As the pro-gun lobby loves to tell us, guns don't kill people. True. People with guns kill people. And the bigger the gun, the more bullets the gunman can fire, the more people will be killed or wounded. Couldn't be clearer.

There's no effective way in the U.S. today to keep people who may be deranged from obtaining one of the more than 250-million legal guns here. It should be noted that we Americans own more guns per capita than any other nation on earth.

Does that make you feel safer?

Campaign Money

This lack of effective mental health intervention fits with readily available guns for anybody with some money and a desire to shoot. Neither problem will be dealt with as long as big money is gathered for political campaigns. The folks who nudge or push elected officials to ignore or deal with issues have a great deal of money. No moneyed interest sees much profit in dealing with mental illness issues. Thus our mentally ill will continue to populate our streets and allies, or troubled families. We all know there's a well-funded set of lobbyists to any local, state or federal government intervention in Americans owning guns.

There's profit in selling guns and ammunition. Some of money is used for constant lobbying. As long as hundreds of millions of dollars are spent in campaigns in America, guns will be easy to get and mental illness will be a non-issue. Their toxic mix will continue to have a horrific effect on our public welfare. Tucson will not be our last American mass shooting unless there is serious effort on both mental illness and easy gun access.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.




By Harry Fuller:
Special to CBSNews.com
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