Today, President Obama announced that Vice-President Biden will head up a new task force charged with making recommendations to reduce gun violence in America. It’s a predictable response to last Friday’s horrific shooting in Connecticut. In addition to the long-standing gun control provisions sought by the left, however, the panel is also tasked with examining current mental health policies and the increase of violence in pop culture. If true, Biden’s panel may actually stumble onto doing something useful.
The panel will explore possible new gun legislation to rein in the sale of assault rifles and high-capacity magazines, but will also look at mental health policies and violence in popular culture.
As details about the Connecticut shooter, Adam Lanza, emerge, it’s becoming clear that the Newtown shooting has more to teach us about mental health treatment in this country than general gun rights. Accounts from family members and former class-mates paint a portrait of a deeply disturbed kid who had great difficulty relating to others. He spent hours every day playing the violent Call of Duty video game and seems to have imagined himself as some kind of real-life commando.
Today, there have been reports that Lanza wasn’t on any kind of medication to mitigate any mental health problems he had. Also, his attack may have been precipitated by fears that his mother was going to commit him for treatment and care. We should, of course, take these reports with some caution, as this story has been misreported from the very beginning. They are, however, consistent with the emerging picture of Lanza and his mental health problems.
So, it would be helpful if Biden’s panel looks into these issues. It’s not at all clear what new gun laws would have prevented this tragedy. Connecticut already has very strict gun laws, and Lanza was recently denied when he tried to purchase a rifle. He only had weapons because he stole them from his mother.
It’s likely, however, that Biden’s panel is a classic Washington parlor game of appointing a task force so that no immediate action needs to be taken. It seems more designed to slow-down the push for more gun laws until the raw emotion of the tragedy has subsided.
Still, some review of current mental health policies, which suffer from a quilt of conflicting and ineffective government action, may produce something useful out of the tragic events in Newtown.