Refocus the debate on mental illness
Our elected officials' rush to action in the wake of the horrors in Newtown, Conn., is understandable. All of us want to do whatever we can to prevent a recurrence. But the emphasis needs to be on mental illness rather than guns. So many of the recent perpetrators of mass killings have been seriously mentally ill.
According to the Treatment Advocacy Center, the number of psychiatric beds per capita is back at 1850s levels, yet there are three times as many seriously mentally ill people in prisons than in hospitals. States need to revisit civil-commitment laws that all too often require violence before the seriously irrational individual is compelled to receive proper care. We also need to enact legislation that prevents such folks from having access to firearms.
MARK H. REED, PLYMOUTH
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How about a national debate on the link between mass shootings and psychiatric drugs? Mental illness and guns have been around forever, but in the last 25 years the surge of school shootings has been linked to the use of psychiatric drugs by the shooters in an overwhelming number of cases. It is a fact that at least 14 school shooters were under the influence of psychiatric drugs documented to cause hostility, aggression and homicidal thoughts. While these drugs improve the lives of so many, they are also overprescribed, underregulated, and the dangers are not widely known.
Why have there not been any calls from our elected officials for a study on this phenomenon? Are we blaming the wrong "powerful lobby group"?
BOB STACH, SAVAGE
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We're neither safe nor secure without liberty
Harvard law Prof. Cass R. Sunstein ("The 2nd Amendment is not a weapon," Dec. 19) purports to school those of us without Ivy League credentials on the finer points of the true meaning of the Second Amendment.
Conspicuous by its absence, however, is any reference to legal minds or decisions predating 1939, which I find just a bit disingenuous, because any scholarly discussion of the Constitution in general and the Second Amendment in particular must take into account the original intent of the founders of our country.
Moreover, this is quite easy to do, considering the wealth of research material available online. If the professor were to do this, however, the "inconvenient truth" would quickly find his premise shot full of holes (pun intended), for the writings of Jefferson, Washington, Hamilton, Adams, Jay and many others are prevalent with examples of their intentions regarding the Second Amendment as an individual right, and why.
To claim that the rise in the Second Amendment as a serious obstacle to gun control is a recent phenomenon is also ignoring the historical perspective. Americans have been merely waking up to what the true intent of the amendment is, and are demanding from our representatives that they start upholding the Constitution and defending our liberty, as they have sworn to do.
This is their primary job, and all else is secondary, even public safety. For without the protections of the Constitution holding the powers of government in check, we have neither security nor safety. That someone who is shaping future legal minds fails to understand this is cause for grave concern.
GREGORY K. SLOAT, COLUMBIA HEIGHTS
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What's being done about guns elsewhere?
With the recent massacre in Newtown, the right wing has brought out its usual pseudo-arguments in its desperate attempt to avoid even the mildest restrictions on firearm ownership: violent video games/movies and secularism.
I wonder why it is, then, that more secular countries like Canada, the United Kingdom, France, South Korea and Japan are exposed to the same sort of films, television and video games, but have rates of gun violence that are insignificant compared with those in the United States.
Maybe it's the gun control.
NATHAN WAGNER, EDEN PRAIRIE
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In 2008, 12,000 people were killed with guns in the United States. In Japan, that number was 11. The solution to our gun problem seems so simple -- just follow Japan's example:
To get a gun in Japan, first you have to attend an all-day class and pass a written test, which are held only once per month. You also must take and pass a shooting-range class. Then, head over to a hospital for a mental-health test and drug test. Extensive criminal background checks are also required. Finally, pass a rigorous background check for any criminal record or association with criminal or extremist groups.
Types of guns are severely restricted, with no assault rifles allowed.
DAVE RAND, MINNEAPOLIS
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There is a place where the streets are safe and well-lit. Where shopping malls and restaurants are filled with people at all hours. Where schools are safe and teachers are respected. There are no gang or drug problems or shootings in this place and very little violence.
There is a reason for this serenity. Justice is swift and laws are respected. There is no jury system; rather, decisions regarding guilt or innocence are made on the law and the evidence alone by a learned judge. No amount of money or lawyerly eloquence will save you if you are guilty. Penalties for possession of guns or drugs are severe -- death by hanging. Penalties for lesser crimes may include harsh prison sentences and caning.
This country is a veritable paradise on Earth because it has a system of justice that actually works to protect its citizens. It is also one of the most advanced countries in the world for education, medical research, and the health and well-being of its citizens. This place is Singapore.
NORM SPILLETH, MINNEAPOLIS