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Something needs to be done: Guns and mental illness in the United States

The tragedy in Las Vegas seems almost unfathomable. How, exactly, is our country supposed to recover from such senseless violence? When 58 people are shot and killed while attending a country music concert, it understandably shatters our peace of mind.

But that’s exactly what happened at the hands of 64-year-old Stephen Paddock, a millionaire gambler and real estate investor who shot hundreds among a crowd of roughly 22,000 from his hotel window at the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino on the Vegas strip. 

The scene that night, on Sunday, Oct. 1, was pure chaos. Young and old alike became targets for Paddock, who had equipped himself with a tremendous arsenal. Nearly 50 firearms and explosives components were recovered from his 32nd-floor hotel room and his two Nevada properties. Twelve of the rifles found were converted from semi-automatic weapons into fully automatic guns with a device known as a bump stock. Bump stocks are legal and easy to purchase. Automatic guns are not.

Nearly all of the guns Paddock had amassed were relatively easy to purchase, from states like Nevada and Utah, among others. In a year’s time, he bought 33 firearms, according to one report. And thousands of rounds of ammunition were used in the attack, with even more found in the shooter’s hotel room, homes and car.

While most media outlets have not been able to confirm whether Paddock suffered from mental illness, this much is clear: Anyone who goes on a mass shooting spree is mentally unstable. A shooter like that is very possibly struggling with some sort of mental illness. Why there’s such hesitancy to acknowledge that, we just don’t know.

But that leads to some very important questions: How do we curb gun violence among the mentally ill? And how do we ensure gun safety for all citizens? 

We’ve all heard it said that the majority of gun owners are responsible, law abiding and peaceful. Many worry gun control would threaten their Second Amendment rights.

We understand that. But there has to be some recognition that our gun safety laws aren’t working. They are, we believe, too lax. When someone can amass so much weaponry, like Paddock, we have to wonder how and why that’s even possible? Is it responsible to sell any one individual that many firearms and that much ammunition? Shouldn’t it send up a red flag? Would a national gun registry database help?

While Paddock might not have exhibited any outward signs of his depraved mental state — shouldn’t we have guidelines in place to prevent those who are clearly identified as mentally ill from obtaining firearms?

President Trump doesn’t seem to think so. In February, he signed into law a measure rescinding President Obama’s edict prohibiting gun sales to certain people with mental illness. A Republican-led Senate approved Trump’s bill, 57-43.

Obama’s bill would have required the Social Security Administration to report on some “mentally ill beneficiaries” to the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System, according to an NPR report. “Those deemed mentally incapable of managing their financial affairs — roughly 75,000 people — would have been affected by the rule.”

Seems like common sense.

So, too, does the call from Democrats to revisit gun safety reforms. But GOP leaders claim the Dems are trying to politicize the Las Vegas tragedy. They said the same thing after Sandy Hook. They said the same thing after Charlottesville. They said the same thing after San Bernardino. When, we wonder, is the right time?

Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi wrote a letter to Speaker of the House Paul Ryan the day after the Las Vegas massacre. She said in light of the 12,000 Americans who have been killed by guns in the 273 mass shootings so far this year, now is the time for action. She asked that a bipartisan Select Committee on Gun Violence be formed to create “common sense legislation to help end this crisis.”

We hope her Republican counterparts agree. Ignoring the gun violence epidemic will not make it go away. Our nation’s leaders need to be strong enough to stand up against those obstructing cooperation and wise enough to create balanced gun control that will protect everyone — gun owners, the mentally ill and all citizens alike.