(CNN) — Next time there’s a mass shooting, don’t jump to blame the National Rifle Association and lax gun laws. Look first at the shooter and the mental health services he did or didn’t get, and the commitment laws in the state where the shooting took place.
Strengthening gun control won’t stop the next mass shooter, but changing our attitudes, the treatment options we offer and the laws for holding the mentally unstable and mentally ill for treatment just might.
Take the case of the recent mass shooting incident in Isla Vista, California. Police say Elliot Rodger went on a killing spree near the University of California campus in Santa Barbara, shooting and stabbing victims, killing six and wounding 13 before he killed himself.
He had legally purchased three guns, passed a federal background check and met several other requirements in one of the most liberal states with the toughest gun control laws in the country. California was one of eight states that passed major gun reforms in the wake of 2012’s Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, in which a lone gunman killed 20 children and six adults.
In fact California’s gun control laws received an “A-” grade from both The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence and the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, the Los Angeles Times reported.
In this climate, how did Rodger succeed in his lethal plan? It wasn’t the gun laws, it was the lack of common sense mental commitment laws.
A 2014 report by the Treatment Advocacy Center, a nonprofit aimed at removing the stigma of mental illness and barriers to treatment, analyzed the state of mental commitment laws state by state, looking at both the “quality of involuntary treatment (civil commitment) laws which facilitate emergency hospitalization during a psychiatric emergency and the availability of court orders mandating continued treatment as a condition of living in a community.”
On virtually all counts, California received an “F” (it got a “C” on emergency evaluation). In Rodger’s case, a friend concerned about alarming videos he’d posted on YouTube had alerted a county mental health staff member, and police had conferred with his mother, but this was not enough to get him committed.
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