CORAL SPRINGS, FL., February 15, 2018: It was a little after 2 p.m. on Wednesday afternoon when the call came. My stepdaughter, phoning from Los Angeles, had just heard the news on her car radio. There was a mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. It is her youthful alma-matter.
When it happens on the street where you live
Turning to a local T.V. station, my wife and I heard the horrible news: Seventeen people were shot dead up the street from our home in Coral Springs. We also learned that the alleged shooter, 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz, was apprehended by police unharmed.
Fellow students told local media that Cruz was known to smuggle weapons onto school property. School authorities did order the young man not to bring a backpack to school. Cruz was eventually expelled.
The alleged shooter used an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle during the school attack.
The Parkland area has its share of million-dollar homes and gated communities. And its manicured greenbelts and tree-lined lanes give the community a park-like appearance, hence the name Parkland.
Local residents were heard to utter the familiar refrain,
“I never expected anything like this to happen here.”
Another clueless comedian
Comedian and television personality, Chelsea Handler, tweeted:
“It is disgusting how many times this has happened and Republicans do nothing. You all have blood on your hands.”
Last December, Handler blamed President Trump “literally and figuratively” for wildfires that forced her to evacuate her southern California home.
But the real question is why a disturbed young man, who many expected would one day commit an act of senseless violence, was never required to seek help from a mental health professional.
A much-needed mental health debate
The problem is not with Republicans “doing nothing” or the National Rifle Association.
The events leading to Wednesday’s mass shooting began in the late 1950s when mental health officials in trendsetting California began instituting reforms to move treatment of the mentally ill away from state institutions to community-based programs.
As the New York Times reported in 1984:
Dr. Robert H. Felix, former director of the National Institute of Mental Health and a major figure in the shift to community centers, says on reflection: “Many of those patients who left the state hospitals should never have done so. We psychiatrists saw too many of the old snake pit, saw too many people who shouldn’t have been there and we overreacted. The result is not what we intended, and perhaps we didn’t ask the questions that should have been asked when developing a new concept, but psychiatrists are human, too, and we tried our damnedest.”
Then-president of the American Psychiatric Association, Dr. John Talbott, told the Times that mental health policy makers “oversold community treatment, and our credibility today is probably damaged because of it.”
The mass shooting in Parkland, Florida, should further degrade the credibility of Dr. Felix’s profession. It should also begin a national debate to reform America’s mental health policies. A better conversation to have than to rekindle another pointless, dead-end gun-control debate.