The July 20 article “Gov. Lee’s gun bill faces stiﬀ opposition. So what do GOP lawmakers support instead?” shed light on proposals by lawmakers following The Covenant School tragedy. While the article focused on reactions and inﬂuence by the gun lobby, it ignored input from the very people affected by these discussions: thousands of Tennesseans and their families touched by mental illness.
Whenever mass shootings take place, the public wants to know the motivation of the shooter. All too often, mental illness is erroneously established as a default motivation of the shooter.
This is demonstrated in discussions by lawmakers outlined in the article. Solutions oﬀered by the legislators interviewed ranged from streamlining involuntary commitments to building more mental health institutions. These approaches might address the needs of a few hundred people who may or may not be violent or homicidal. Contrary to popular perception, most people with mental illness are not violent and are more likely to be victims of violence.
What gun laws would Republicans support?Gov. Lee’s gun bill faces stiff opposition. So what do GOP lawmakers support instead?
These approaches continue the stigma against mental illness and ignore research showing up to 96% of the people who commit acts of mass violence do so based on other motivations, such as racial hatred (El Paso shooting, August 2019; Buﬀalo shooting, May 2022) and religious hatred (Pittsburgh synagogue shooting, October 2018). Authorities still don’t know the motivations, other than anger, behind the 2017 Las Vegas shooter.
Anger and hatred are not mental illnesses – but they are risk factors for mass violence
Anger and hatred are not mental illnesses. They are, however, risk factors for committing acts of mass violence. Certainly, untreated mental illness is a risk factor, along with isolation, alcohol and drug abuse, past violence and untreated trauma.
The June mass shooting of three children and three adults in Marion County involved a man with an active order of protection against him. Tennessee has a law that would have allowed his estranged wife to ask law enforcement to petition the court to have his ﬁrearms taken away.
Tennessee and 19 other states already have laws for risk-protection orders. They allow a judge to issue an order so law enforcement oﬃcers can temporarily remove ﬁrearms from individuals deemed a danger to themselves or others. These laws have been shown to reduce incidents of suicide. NAMI Tennessee supports such a law, so long as individuals with mental illness are not singled out and due-process rights are preserved for individuals to regain possession of ﬁrearms when they are no longer considered dangerous.
Tennessee special session is over.Here’s what lawmakers did and did not accomplish
- Improve Tennessee’s patient bed tracking system so that hospitals’ emergency departments and crisis stabilization units can check bed availability at treatment centers and admit patients experiencing a mental health crisis to an appropriate location.
- Build upon recent eﬀorts by lawmakers and Gov. Bill Lee’s administration to attract and retain behavioral health professionals by creating pathways to employment such as internships and college loan forgiveness programs.
- Build upon eﬀorts to crack down on health insurance plans that improperly deny or reduce services for mental health and substance use disorder.
NAMI Tennessee is the largest grassroots advocacy organization for individuals with mental health conditions and their families. NAMI Tennessee resources are available to lawmakers as they develop appropriate public policies that move past fear-based approaches by focusing on the wide array of risk factors that contribute to mass violence.
Alisa LaPolt is policy and advocacy director of NAMI Tennessee.