Opinions diverge on curbing mass murder risk
By Carl Orth | Suncoast NewsNEW PORT RICHEY - Still absorbing the tragedy of the massacre in Newtown, Conn., local leaders joined the national discussion on the best course to reduce the risk of mass murders in the future.
Published: December 23, 2012
Published: December 23, 2012
"These wackos have always chosen a gun-free zone," Pasco Republican State Committeeman Bill Bunting said.
So Bunting doubts more gun controls on semi-automatic weapons, like the one suspected shooter Adam Lanza used to kill 26 people, most of them children, at Sandy Hook Elementary School, would prove effective.
Bunting would prefer funding more school resource officers to protect campuses.
Horrific shootings today stem in part from the closing of mental health hospitals and facilities after funding was gutted in the 1970s and 1980s, former Pasco County Health Department Director Marc Yacht thinks.
"It's still a disaster," Yacht said, citing a "total breakdown" in mental health services. In the past, a police officer could take an erratic suspect with violent tendencies to a mental health evaluation center, Yacht said. Such suspects today usually wind up in jails that are ill-equipped to deal with mental health issues.
Owning numerous guns himself, Yacht also expressed doubts about more gun controls. However, he would be more inclined for additional restrictions on semi-automatic weapons.
"You can't have a knee-jerk reaction," Bunting said about bringing back an assault weapons ban that expired in 2004.
Adam Lanza's mother bought her guns legally, but she should have locked the weapons in a gun safe so her son did not have access, Bunting said. Lanza is thought to have used one of the guns to kill his mother.
The outcome of the shootings could have been much different if the Sandy Hook school principal could have kept a weapon under lock and key in her office, Bunting believes. The defenseless principal was killed lunging at the shooter. The shooter killed himself when he heard police car sirens.
Florida lawmakers perhaps should revisit the issue of allowing guns on college campuses, Bunting said. He would at least allow faculty or students with military service to carry guns if they have concealed weapons permits.
Right now, guns are not allowed anywhere on campuses.
"The mental health issue is the problem," Bunting said. Congress, however, would need to reach consensus on privacy problems to make it easier to report erratic people.
"Mental health services are the elephant in the room," Yacht said. "I'm for reasonable gun control, but I don't see gun control playing as much a part in these tragedies as the lack of mental health care." Decisions made decades ago deinstitutionalized a lot of people with severe personality disorders, Yacht said. Mental hospitals closed, but local treatment centers never got enough funds to take over the role of such hospitals. Former hospital patients faded from sight.
Families today sometimes seek mental treatment for an unpredictable family member, but treatments are too expensive or the family doesn't qualify for Medicaid help, Yacht said.
About 30 percent of people living on the streets are not getting medications for mental illness problems, Yacht pointed out.
Besides the Connecticut massacre, opinions also diverge over a Tampa case in which Jared Cano, now 18, was tried as an adult for a plot to blow up Freedom High School. Cano was sentenced Dec. 5 to 15 years in prison.
"I'm not too happy with that," Yacht said about the lengthy sentence for Cano. "What have you done for this kid? What have you done for society?"
Yacht would have recommended sending Cano to a mental health evaluation facility. Cano's defense attorney said the boy suffered from mental illness and anger issues.
Bunting, on the other hand, applauded the judge who handed down the long prison sentence for Cano.
"That judge had it right," Bunting said. "We need more judges like that. They have to get judges that will enforce the law."
Prosecutors characterized Cano as a teenage terrorist bent on mass murder.
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