Louisiana gun control, lack of mental health resources misplace blame for violent crimes

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The United States Senate voted against a bill on Feb. 15 that would have prevented people with mental health conditions from purchasing firearms.

This bill came to fruition in light of the Sandy Hook school shooting in December 2012. Had the bill passed, it would have placed people who receive Social Security disability benefits for mental health conditions on the FBI’s background check system. In a country where gun violence is a problem and issues with mental health have constantly been neglected, the Senate has taken a step back in making progress for proper gun control. Now more than ever, states need comprehensive gun control reform which will prevent guns from falling into the wrong hands.

This is especially true for Louisiana.

Like most Southern states, Louisiana has lax gun regulations. On the Brady Campaign State Scorecard, Louisiana received a two out of 100, a low score on the index. Special gun permits or licenses are not necessary to buy a gun. All that is required is that the buyer has a driver’s license and is 21-years-old for handguns and 18-years-old for shotguns or rifles. Gun carry laws are controlled by local government, but generally only prohibit carrying firearms in schools, hospitals, places of worship and municipalities.

While gun control is an important realm of policy that needs to be addressed all over the country, mental health is a prominent issue that is heavily stigmatized and ignored, especially in the South. Just like gun regulations are scarce in Louisiana, the state also lacks resources to aid mental health issues. In 2015, Louisiana ranked 47th overall in mental health care despite the state claiming it had improved upon existing mental health resources.

According to Harvard Health Publications, people with mental illnesses are not significantly more likely to commit violent crimes with firearms than those without mental illnesses. Those statistics could justify why a majority of the Senate nixed this gun control bill. The same Harvard study, however, found that substance abuse by someone with specific mental illnesses, bipolar disorder or schizophrenia, can increase the likelihood of someone committing a violent crime. That is where the issue lies.

All of these statistics indicate several needs for policy changes. First, Louisiana needs to do better, both in the realms of gun control and mental health care. The state ranks poorly in both policy areas and needs to enact more regulations to keep its people safe and healthy. On a national level, the Senate needs to ensure that there are measures in place to make sure people who are obtaining guns will use them responsibly. The majority of senators may have felt that the Second Amendment allowed everyone to obtain firearms and that this was a discriminatory law against those with mental health disorders. This type of law, however, is not unconstitutional. Late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, a proponent of Second Amendment rights, claimed that the Second Amendment is not unlimited. He added that it is not unlawful to prevent people like felons and the mentally ill from purchasing firearms.

While mental health disorders do not appear to significantly increase the likelihood that someone will commit a violent crime, substance abuse — a legitimate psychological disorder — does. Policy needs to inhibit use of firearms by people with substance abuse problems, as well as those with mental health conditions which can increase the chance of substance abuse. Until Louisiana and other states can improve mental health care, stricter gun control is the only option to keep people safe.

This is an opinion article and does not necessarily reflect the views of The Hullabaloo. Daniel is a junior at Newcomb-Tulane College. He can be reached at [email protected]