If Guns Don’t Kill People, Why Does Florida Cheat Mental Health?

Pro-gun states like Florida insist that tragedies like Sandy Hook are a mental health issue, yet they hypocritically spend the least on those services.

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REUTERS/Brian Blanco

Customers in Sarasota, Florida look over the last two AR-15 style rifles for sale inside the Bullet Hole gun shop before an expected gun control announcement by U.S. President Barack Obama on January 16, 2013.

Maybe Florida is hoping to deflect attention from its hopeless election system. But in the wake of last month’s Connecticut school shooting tragedy, the Sunshine State has gladly made itself the torch bearer of our right to pack heat. In response to the revived gun control debate, Florida is leading the nation in gun sales, which soared 77% there last month. The state recently announced its millionth concealed weapon permit as loudly and proudly as if it had just eliminated child poverty or unemployment. Florida also wants you to know that after reconsidering its controversial Stand Your Ground law, the Wild West gun code at the center of the Trayvon Martin killing, it’s decided not to reconsider it. Put that in your Glock and fire it.

But what Florida is being surprisingly quiet about—make that hypocritically quiet about—is the fact that it ranks 49th in spending on mental health services. Florida, in fact, allots just $39 per person compared to a national average of $129. According to the Ocala Star-Banner, adjusted for inflation that represents less expenditure than Florida saw in the 1950s. That’s hypocrisy because Florida is governed by leaders slavishly loyal to the National Rifle Association (NRA)—and that lobby, especially in the wake of the Connecticut assault rifle massacre that killed 20 young children, has insisted at every turn that such atrocities aren’t a gun issue but a mental health issue.

The NRA is half right, anyway. Better identification of the mentally ill in our midst is one critical part of the problem; the other is the absurd access the mentally ill have to semi-automatic weapons and bottomless ammunition clips. But either way, the Florida data point up the gun lobby’s shameful duplicity: while it lavishes millions of dollars on politicians—$700,000 in Florida alone last year—to keep U.S. gun laws among the world’s most lax, it rarely if ever pushes legislators to get serious about the mental health crisis that it holds up as a cynical means of distracting us from the gun crisis.

And Florida is hardly the lone showcase—or Lone Star, if you will. Few states enjoy advertising themselves as the most gun-totin’ territory in the country than Texas does, pardner, and yet it’s dead last in the nation in mental health spending. It’s bringing up the rear in an area that so many gun advocates tell us is the key to solving America’s gun crisis—er, sorry, violence crisis, which is the new talking-point term we’re supposed to use now. All of the U.S. states in the bottom 10 of mental health spending—Texas, Idaho, Florida, Arkansas, Georgia, Oklahoma, Kentucky, South Carolina, Louisiana, Utah, Nevada and West Virginia—also sport the nation’s loosest gun control laws, according to the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence in Washington, D.C. So the states that most passionately defend the Second Amendment are the ones that least fervently adhere to their own precept that guns don’t kill people, people do.

If they really believed in that argument, would their Governors be vetoing even modest mental health spending increases, as Florida’s Rick Scott did last year? It’s true that the Great Recession has forced even progressive states, like Connecticut, to cut back on services like mental health care. But if you go out of your way, as Florida has, to make the right to bear arms more absolute than the right to own a dog—given my own family’s experience with a Schnauzer rescue agency, I’ll bet Scott faced more red tape adopting the Labrador he recently had to give away than he would if he were buying a Luger—people also have a right to criticize the fact that per capita you spend less than kenneling a dog would cost when it comes to recognizing and treating deranged people who might pull triggers.

The hypocrisy doesn’t stop there, however. Like most Americans, I support the right to own a shotgun for hunting or a handgun to protect your family. I also support commonsense gun regulations—just as I support free speech but also curbs on libel and slander. Which brings us to the First Amendment and the attempt by Scott and his fellow conservatives in Tallahassee to make it a crime for pediatricians to ask their patients if they have guns in their homes—even though 1 in every 25 pediatric trauma cases involves gunshot wounds. (A federal judge blocked the law last year.) Adam Putnam, who heads Florida’s Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, which oversees concealed weapons permits, crowed that the millionth license proved how “strenuously our state supports the Second Amendment.” But where were pols like him when Scott so strenuously tried to trash the First Amendment rights of doctors?

When Florida’s next legislative session begins in March, a few lawmakers will introduce measures to either repeal or water down Stand Your Ground—the much abused 2005 law that lets anyone, anywhere use deadly force against another person if they feel their life is in danger. It will probably be a futile effort. And efforts to pass improved mental health services legislation may fail too. That’s a shame, because it would help lessen the risk of gun violence. After all, it’s people who kill people.

44 comments
GeorgeWingate1123
GeorgeWingate1123

The NRA donates so much money because a LARGE part of this country donates to them so that the Gun laws are not watered down like Religion, Values, Hard Work etc. have been done by Liberals like most on this site.

rcl1213
rcl1213

This is just another reflection of the twisted state of American politics. Those in office are working not to make significant or necessary changes in policy, but rather to remain on good terms with their political "friends" - groups that support them monetarily or through policy, or voters that will keep them in office. Florida officials refuse to do anything that might distance them from the NRA or its precious supporters, yet they can't even back up their morals regarding the mental health crisis. It's time for FL politicians to walk their talk... Supposedly guns don't kill people, but they will certainly be put to use by those who can get their hands on a gun before they can get their hands on mental health care. 

CerebralSmartie
CerebralSmartie

Gun control advocates  in Florida ought to stand their ground and make their voices heard! It is not futile. Stop the craziness.  Some officials will actually listen: "Why in the world would we not want to check to see if a person buying a weapon has a criminal record?" asked gun-owning Senator Bill Nelson (D) in a statement. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/01/16/florida-reps-obama-gun-control_n_2490236.html   There are many who oppose Stand Your Ground. Make your voices heard. Get some activism going NOW.

On the subject of Mental Health: "Despite 22 international drug regulatory agency warnings on psychiatric drugs causing violent side effects including aggression, mania, violence, psychosis, suicidal and homicidal ideation and 14 recent school shootings committed by those under the influence of, or withdrawal from, psychiatric drugs, there has yet to be a federal investigation into psychiatric drugs causing violence. While there is much speculation about what is behind the spate of school shootings, all too often one common denominator has surfaced—prescribed psychiatric drugs. Lawmakers must require an investigation into the role of psychiatric drugs and violence in relation to school shootings and similar acts of violence, given that the supporting data, already exists and, to date, has been ignored by the federal government and the U.S. federal agencies over mental health.  http://www.thepetitionsite.com/967/364/876/demand-federal-investigation-into-psychiatric-drugs-school-shootings/



yorgosmalama
yorgosmalama

That's one way to look at things, I suppose.  What this article is pointing out is that the Northern states with the most conservative gun laws, most money spent on mental health, have the bigest problems when it comes to gun related killings by sane or not so sane folks

Move South.

jerod23
jerod23

The stigma of mental illness is bad enough as it is, and that keeps a lot of us from seeking treatment. How many more will stay away when HIPAA no longer applies to us? Think about it. Would you see a doctor if that meant your name, address, phone number and Social Security number went into an FBI database of people the FBI considered to be a bunch of mass murderers in waiting?

If you think this focus on the mentally ill as scapegoats for gun violence isn’t going to have profound unintended consequences you're crazier than I am. Easier access to better mental health services is pointless if everyone is afraid to use them. I run a website for the mentally interesting and already people are talking about no longer getting treatment if the incredibly stupid idea of opening up mental health records is implemented. Doing so would lead to more deaths, not fewer. In actuality the deaths would be the usual victims, the mentally ill, by the usual causes: suicide, violence committed upon us and from the harsh conditions of living on the streets. But if it makes you happy, go ahead and imagine hordes of unmedicated nutjobs who won’t be in the database and can thus legally buy all the guns and ammo they want. Talk about shooting yourself in the foot.

And just to remind everyone, Adam Lanza didn’t own the guns he used, they belonged to his mother. So our close relatives should be included as well, right? And the close relatives of substance abusers, violent felons, spousal/partner abusers? Where does it end?

A longer, fully sourced essay on the subject is at: http://crazy-meds1.blogspot.com/2012/12/guns-and-mental-illness-no-easy-answer.html.

judgetwit
judgetwit

@rokdevil  I really want to understand your philosophy, and do not want to "bash" you.  But how do you think you will defend yourself against the United States government, other than with your vote?  Even an expanded clip in an assault weapon will do nothing to oppose such force, and where did you get the idea that such opposition is appropriate or legal in a democracy?  Our rights in the United States are basically described in the US Constitution, although the document is a limitation on the government.  That doesn't mean that you have an inalienable right to commit treason; it also does not mean that you can make that decision for me.  Such ideas are wrong, plain and simple.  If you do not like the people we elect, you have no right to oppose them with violence--you should seek to elect those with your opinions.  There is nothing tyrannical about an election, although ours are increasingly corrupted by money and those who have it.  And I would urge you to consider the fact that as a society, we have an interest in getting treatment (health care, substance abuse, mental health, etc.) to those who cannot afford it, no matter how upsetting such expenditures may be to you.  Since almost everything in this country is a profit-making enterprise, denying desperately needed care to people does our country great harm.  I'd rather invest in mentally and physically healthy citizens than in something else I really don't need.

nflfoghorn
nflfoghorn

Oh the irony.  But TP also pointed out another truth: Teh NRA doesn't want any modifications to the Second Amendment (as it interprets it).

VincentLovece
VincentLovece

So, I imagine state which spend a lot of money on mental health, like Connecticut, would never have a crazy shooting incident... oh wait.

rokdevil
rokdevil

I find it sad that both republicans and democrats are bashing each other about these issues.  First of all, everyone has the right to self-defense.  This includes self-defense from tyrannical governments, when and if they should arise.  Its very hard to defend oneself from a well-armed government thug or criminal when all you have is six-shooter.  The Founders included the 2nd because humans are, well...human.  They were well aware of the propensity of governments to become increasingly tyrannical and nothing I've seen in the last 50 years leads me to believe that we've changed.  The 2nd wasn't written to insure our right to hunt or target practice.

As for mental health, I've got a suggestion.  Let's convince the democrats and republicans to cut military spending in half.  That will translate into a $650,000,000,000 savings.  We'll take that money and use half of it to pay down the national debt.  The other half will disappear as reduced taxes to citizens in the amount of $1000 a person.  For those individuals who don't pay more than $1000 we'll refund their entire tax burden.  Now, the next step is to let the states decide if they are going to increase taxes on their citizens to increase the amount of money appropriated on mental health.  Some states will tax their people, some won't.  Perhaps some of the citizens will decide to donate some of that money.  Maybe they will work a little less and spend more time with their family?  Who knows?

There is a large number of people who, like myself, want to take money away from politicians and put it back in the hands of the people.  There are also a large number of people, again like myself, who believe that government simply can not take away our rights, regardless of what is written down in a document.  We believe that the Constitution was a good effort to codify the rights of humans that automatically exist but that mistakes in the codification do not change the actuality of the rights.  We're not gun crazy anymore than we are free speech crazy or habeas corpos crazy.  We are extremists in the defense of liberty, which Mr. Goldwater stated was no vice.

BlakeMartin
BlakeMartin

Just lock up the mentally ill like they use too. Might help cut down on the abuses of gun rights

TyPollard
TyPollard

Do the "Stand Your Ground" laws apply to the mentally ill?

If so, remind me to never visit Florida.

grape_crush
grape_crush

> If they really believed in that argument, would their Governors be vetoing even modest mental health spending increases.

Nah, you're looking at it completely from the wrong angle. The Florida GOP/NRA's Modest Proposal allows Floridians to simply shoot the mentally ill.

No need for spending money for shrinks and overpriced medications when the people who need them are dead, amiright? And so what if a few bystanders are perforated in the process? That's just collateral damage, which is the price we pay to uphold our Constitutionally-guaranteed right to be bitter and cling to our guns.

fitty_three
fitty_three

Florida is not the only state that happens in.  Mental health coverage is widely shortchanged.

Here's a shocker though:

Even if it were well funded, such screening is not likely to ever be better than 70% accurate....

...aaaaaand, how many people buy guns?

DonQuixotic
DonQuixotic

How about Florida does something about its horrific homeless and poverty problems.

MrObvious
MrObvious

 But what Florida is being surprisingly quiet about—make that hypocritically quiet about—is the fact that it ranks 49th in spending on mental health services.


Sunshine on a mental mind.

notsacredh
notsacredh

"Better identification of the mentally ill in our midst is one critical part of the problem"

.

Many of us here in swampland point them out regularly. They're still posting.

gysgt213
gysgt213

Attached is a list of mental disorders.  There are over 400 different definitions of mental disorders  Someone-anyone tell me how in the wide world of sports is anyone going to sound gun policy with all these different disorders falling under mental health?

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_mental_disorders

forgottenlord
forgottenlord

@TyPollard 

Could a Tea Partier use "Stand your Ground" to justify shooting any Liberal on sight because they're taking the country away and going to send all the Tea Partiers to reeducation camps and....?

aztecian
aztecian

@grape_crush take all the guns away.  2nd amendment was written by white racist who wanted to keep the slaves under control, no other reason.  since we still have slavery, they still need their guns.  eliminate 2nd amendment and they have to relinquish control. 

nflfoghorn
nflfoghorn

@MrObvious Eternal Sunshine of the...what was the name of that Carrey movie again?

wth?
wth?

@KevinGroenhagen Odd, you are turning into a bit of a celebrity here. When I saw this article, I actually thought to myself, 'what would that guy say to this?' I'm too new here to remember people's names, but I do enjoy you and DQ fight. 


Instead of bringing abortion into this, would you mind telling us what you think about Florida having lax gun laws and being close do last in mental health funding? 

fitty_three
fitty_three

@KevinGroenhagen  

I think your witlessness is the only thing that can come close to a round from an assault rifle in terms of sheer deadliness.

MementoMori
MementoMori

@KevinGroenhagen Well, at least you got through that without calling anyone a "moron", "skippy" or questioning someone's manhood. It's just pointlessly offensive religious right sloganeering.

Which for you, should be considered progress.

fitty_three
fitty_three

@gysgt213  

Let alone an accurate diagnosis.  Few of these have tests are diagnostic.

jp
jp

@wth? @gysgt213 One possible solution is a more stringent background check and a longer waiting period to purchase guns.  

Mental issues are too many to diagnose, let alone cure.  So the simplest solution would be to possibly delay the acquisition of guns.

MartiWilliams
MartiWilliams

@jp @wth? @gysgt213 Which mental disorders...the Axis I's or the Axis II's .Not all mental disorders are dangerous, so one is traveling a very slippery slope when you say all people with mental disorders should be banned from buying guns.

jp
jp

@wth? @jp @gysgt213 I apologize for the confusion.  I definitely agree that people wit mental disorders should not have access to guns, at all.

wth?
wth?

@jp @wth? @gysgt213 I completely agree that more stringent background checks and longer waiting periods are needed. But surely we can both agree that a person with paranoid schizophrenia should not get a gun?