Friday, May 24, 2013
Their response to the Newtown mass shooting was short on ideas about how to improve the kind of mental health services that might have been able to prevent that tragedy or one of the others that have shocked the nation over the last decade or so.
LePage, however, was dead wrong when he said that we don't need to look at gun laws when we talk about preventing gun violence.
This is a complicated problem without a single answer; and everyone's ideas, including both Biden's and LePage's, should be on the table.
LePage is right when he says that untreated mental illness is a thread that connects the massacres at Virginia Tech; Tucson, Ariz.; Aurora, Colo.; and probably Newtown.
The governor is also right when he says everyone should be concerned about issues of access and delivery of mental health services -- not just because it could prevent a rare act of violence, but because it also is the humane way for a society to take care of people who are in distress.
LePage is rightfully proud of Maine's "B" grade from the National Alliance on Mental Illness -- no state got a higher rating.
That does not mean, however, that Maine is doing everything it can -- or should -- to help people with mental illness.
In his letter to Biden, LePage touted $2 million in court-ordered spending this year for mental health services. He also, however, has ordered $1.8 million in cuts that affect those same services.
Mass shootings get headlines, but they are unusual crimes.
LePage has appropriately called attention to domestic violence in Maine, which is behind about half of the homicides in the state.
Federal law prohibits anyone with a domestic-violence assault conviction from owning a gun, but other violent misdemeanors are not disqualifying even if they were pleaded down from felony charges. A record of those offenses is far more predictive of future violent act than a mental illness diagnosis.
Alcohol abuse is also more of a risk factor for acts of violence and suicide than mental illness.
Federal law prohibits people who use illegal drugs from possessing firearms, but there is no restriction for people with demonstrated alcohol abuse problems.
This issue is not going away, nor can it be solved simply by continuing current levels of spending on mental health services. Common-sense gun regulations that respect gun owners' rights should be part of the response to Newtown.
LePage was partly right, but it's too early to rule out changes to the law if we are serious about preventing violence.