#MacroSW Chat 3/22/2018: Gun Violence, Mental Health, and the Social Worker’s Role

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Columbine. Sandy Hook. Pulse Night Club. Las Vegas and now Parkland.…the list is longer than the mention of these horrendous mass shootings. Social workers will continue to play a key role in helping our country enforce current gun regulations and grabble with enacting new laws for the public’s safety while balancing people’s right to bear arms. But in the wake of the Parkland shooting how we move forward to stop gun violence continues to be a vexing problem.

Join us on Thursday, March 22 at 9 p.m. Eastern (6 p.m. Pacific) for the #MacroSW chat to explore gun policies and perspectives and how social workers can continue to make an impact to end gun violence and discuss ways people can engage in this debate to make real change.

On a personal note, I’m heartbroken about the Parkland school shooting which took place in my hometown of Fort Lauderdale in Broward County. The loss of life has been devastating and seeing friends who were personally affected by this tragedy truly saddens and angers me.  What’s also disheartening is the unproductive way we are discussing gun control/rights with each other on social media.  There is no common ground and quite frankly, we seem stuck with no clear path forward.

Some second amendment advocates hide behind the Constitution to rationalize blocking common-sense gun control measures and blindly follow the NRA’s dark, at times dystopic and oddly sugar-coated positions. One example (and there are many), is this NRA article, 10 Reasons To Own An AR-15, which list explanations such as fun, disaster preparedness, teaching youngsters accurate rifle shooting and women love the “cool factor.”  On the other side, some gun control advocates have twisted the facts to promote their cause which only undermines their credibility and that of anyone who champions gun control measures. For example, Everytown for Gun Safety has inflated the number of school shootings. Propaganda and fear are pervasive on both sides and it has gotten us nowhere.

Many have lost the ability to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes, an important social work skill when trying to understand the gun violence problem. In today’s polarizing political climate, I’m losing faith that people are able to make an effort to understand an opposing view and fear we will be unable to bridge this divide. It’s increasingly elusive to have an open-minded and rational conversation.

Today, we are at a tipping point as high school students nationwide take up the gun control cause since the adults in the room have failed to curb gun violence in our communities. Social workers could be at the center of harnessing the energy of this movement. We must marshal all of our skills to collaborate, problem solve with and engage these young activists. We also need to have harder conversations about the intersection between mental health and gun violence, especially in the case of suicide and devise strategies to combat the destructive forces of the NRA.

The muddled messages which emerge in the wake of gun violence which simply blames a person’s mental illness when in fact one’s mental health may not even play a role in a mass shooting. People who commit mass shootings may have had interactions with the mental health system but that doesn’t ‘t mean their mental illness caused them to kill. We need to better make this distinction. But what happens in the coverage of mass shootings, the general public is left with the impression that all people with mental illnesses are dangerous. In fact, research shows they are not likely to be violent. The greater predictor of someone committing a violent act is past violent or abusive behavior.

Let’s be clearer about how a strong mental health system can play a role in identifying people who might do harm to themselves or others but gain a better understanding that this will not be a full proof arbitrator which will prevent gun violence. The public should demand better mental health care for Americans for many other reasons, i.e. overall health, productivity, and not just after when gun violence happens.

Questions we will explore:

  1. Guns are too easily accessible to people who should not possess them. What strategies can social workers support to solve this problem?
  2. How can we better explain the difference between people who have mental illnesses and people who commit gun violence?
  3. What policies can gun control and gun rights advocates find common ground?
  4. What policies should we advocate for to balance the right of a client’s self-determination to seek treatment versus forcing treatment under the determinations that someone is a violent threat to themselves and others?
  5. Do you think we have taken confidentiality concerns to an extreme? If so, does this hinder our ability to notify the authorities about someone who might be a violent threat?

Resources:

Gun violence, mental health link complex, NASW News

History of gun-control legislation, Washington Post

Here’s a Timeline of the Major Gun Control Laws in America, Time

Gun Control And Gun Rights, U.S. News

CHART: How Have Your Members Of Congress Voted On Gun Bills?, NPR

The Changing Vocabulary of Mental Illness, The Atlantic

NAMI Statement On The Parkland School Shooting

Yet Again, Mental Health America Blog

Statement from National Council for Behavioral Health on Florida School Shooting

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