Watkinsville, Ga May, 29 (The Oklahoma Post) –
This story originally had expediency to print, however, we realized there is no rush. Unfortunately, and inevitably, there will be another day when the nation’s attention is again focused on gun violence and then swiftly dropped.
In the United States, there have been 214 mass shootings as defined by Gun Violence Archive (one in which at least 4 people were shot) within the first 145 days of 2022.
In the past few weeks, the nation has yet again seen the worst of humanity. The gruesome gun violence in America has become a daily occurrence and attached to the news coverage of the event are viral clips streaming from the pulpits to the politicians demonizing those with real arguments.
In the meantime, families of the shooters and the victims of gun violence alike are asking how many more lives must be lost before actions are taken to close the loopholes in American law?
They cry and pray with groanings of deep pain, wondering, how do you let someone go? How do you make the nightmares end? Why won’t the legislators enact legislation that states no guns can be in the homes of abuse and mental health illnesses? Why do we choose to be an outlier to other developed countries for enacting proven gun control measures?
A Georgia Family’s Recent Story of Gun Violence
On December 28th, 2021, 20-year-old Peyton Moyer was arrested after being suspected of shooting his mother and her significant other in Georgia. This incident of gun violence has been reported across the nation, but the facts have been cherry-picked and Peyton’s family’s story has not been reported.
The first time the family noticed signs of mental illness in Peyton Moyer occurred in 2014 on a return trip to Georgia from Oklahoma, after a summer with his younger siblings. Peyton and his sisters had enjoyed a summer of fun, sun, and family time in the backyard of Mary Stinnett and Gregory Moyer’s home in Stillwater Oklahoma. As they normally had done, Peyton and his sister L.M. ended the summer with a trip back to their home to meet up with their mother, Ashley. It wasn’t uncommon for the children to be shuffled with their mother from one boyfriend to the next, first Marshall Pressley, then Burt Shutza, and then Ashley’s longtime boyfriend Benji Smith, with whom she had a young daughter. The children enjoyed the togetherness of their father’s family in Oklahoma during their summer stays.
In a simple disagreement with his sister on the ride back to meet their mother, Peyton covered his ears and rocked back and forth, seemingly inconsolable, and unable to communicate.
This was the last summer visit Peyton and his sister had with their father. It was after this visit that the mental condition and family dynamics changed in such a way that Ashley would not send the children to Oklahoma for the split custody agreement, as she was upset about the reductions in child support.
According to statements from Peyton Moyer to his father, during those years (2016-2020), he fell into the wrong crowd and was receiving drugs from Ray Macelroy, City Council Member Dan Mathews, and the son of Dan Mathews who was Peyton’s acquaintance. Peyton had gotten into trouble with Mathews, and it was reported by witnesses, including Moyer, that Mathews had been providing narcotics and cannabis out of the home.
Cut off from family, and not supported by the juvenile justice system in Oconee County Georgia, Peyton never finished more than an 8th-grade education, which coincided with the loss of his father’s influence. As a minor during this time, Peyton also had several head injuries from a downtown Athens Georgia nightclub incident and had been in multiple physical altercations with Smith in the home.
Anger and confusion had also set in surrounding his father’s divorce in Oklahoma, where his father claimed his civil due process rights were being violated following 6-years of custody disputes, with warnings to the courts as seen in filings in the Western District of Oklahoma case Civ 21-817. Peyton hadn’t seen his sisters in 5 years and was frequently calling Mary Stinnett, his former stepmother, who wouldn’t allow him to speak with them.
In 2021, Peyton accepted his father’s invitation to move to Oklahoma so he could start fresh with his father by his side. Peyton’s father enrolled him in a GED Program in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, and began the steps to apply for mental health treatment and a therapist but was forced to send the now-adult back to Georgia to appear before Oconee County court for a series of transgressions leading back to juvenile court. During those court proceedings, Peyton Moyer was ordered back into the home of his mother and her significant other, the home in which there was a history of domestic violence and restraining orders were not being recognized or enforced by the local justice system.
Peyton was also on a drug called Invega Sustenna, an atypical antipsychotic prescribed for the treatment of schizophrenia and schizoaffective disorders. The parents notified medical professionals that this was not the correct drug for Peyton to be prescribed. During this time, Peyton never had adequate professional therapy sessions as neither the mother nor father could get assistance from a proper mental health program from the locally contracted Advantage Behavioral Health of Athens, GA. According to the father, the local DFACS would not work with the father or send records necessary for commitment in Georgia per the mother’s request.
For weeks before the incident in Georgia, Peyton experienced severe hallucinations, which is a “rebounding” effect and listed as one of the potential but rare side effects. Peyton was texting and calling his family frantically worried that his grandmother and sisters had died in a plane crash. He was certain he was seeing these things on tv and was convinced the accident was real. When his father would attempt to intervene, both his mother Ashley and Peyton himself would block communications in fear of an involuntary commitment to a mental health institution.
During the years and days before the incident, there were phone calls made to Watkinsville Georgia police, the Sheriff Department’s James Hale, and pleadings for assistance through the Oconee crisis lines. It is believed that Peyton’s medication was not being administered with regularity or close supervision by a mental health professional and that he experienced psychosis, a very common side effect of going off his medication. Regardless, despite the pleas of his father, there was nobody there to intervene and protect Peyton, to step up and immediately respond to his mental health crisis.
To ensure that truths were never told, a complete muzzling of the truth took place to protect local politicians, the loose gun culture, and more. According to transcripts in Georgia Case, the juvenile sister of Peyton was first placed into foster care, and then illegally placed into the home of grandparents Sandra and Roddy Edmunds, where the remainder of the weapons were not ordered to be removed.
Mr. Moyer openly questioned who had the gun at the home? During conversations regarding gun access with the Oconee County Sheriff’s Department shortly after the incident, Mr. Moyer was told by the Deputy, “not to bring that gun safety mess into this”.
Just days after witnessing some of the events and the aftermath of the alleged murder, the minor daughter was completely cut off from the family attempting to prevent a repeat event. A string of lies were told, evidence was suppressed, and when the Grandmother, Sandra Edmunds was aggressively cross-examined by attorney Crystal Wright things got heated. On the stand, the topic of loaded guns in the new home of LM was presented to the court and witness Sandra Edmunds, who became visibly angry and expressed no concerns about the new home having assault rifles, despite everything that had happened, and denied there ever being any violence in their home. Mrs. Edmunds then stated for the record that Attorney Crytal Wright had an evil smile. Neither Sandra Edmunds nor Roddy Edmunds holds a high school education. The judge also expressed no concern about there being guns in the home; just completely ignored any testimony.
The Politicians and Pundits
Most families that have been affected by gun violence believe that if proper legislation were in place and proper adherence to current laws was policy, many times these tragedies would not have occurred.
Governor Greg Abbott spoke at a press conference Wednesday following the tragedy at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas. The agenda to deflect from the laws started immediately following the event in Uvalde, the State of Texas rushed to defeat the narrative that weak gun laws are to blame.
“We as a state, we as a society need to do a better job with mental health. Anybody who shoots somebody else has a mental health problem, period,” Abbott said. “We as a government need to target that mental health challenge and do something about it.”
While true in a sense, this statement was nearly a full one-eighty for Abbott who previously slashed the Texas Mental Health services budget by $211 million.
The conference was interrupted when the gubernatorial Democratic candidate, and Abbott challenger, Beto O’Rourke, walked up to the auditorium stage and shouted up to Abbot that the gun violence at Robb Elementary was preventable and that this will happen again if Abbott continues to do nothing.
By doing nothing O’Rourke was referencing banning specific weapons such as AR-15s, which O’Rourke highlighted during his campaign trail in 2019, “Hell yes, we’re going to take your AR-15, your AK-47,” O’Rourke famously said to roaring applause from a crowd at Texas Southern University. “We’re not going to allow it to be used against our fellow Americans anymore.” Yet here we are, 3 years after his hometown of El Paso was the stage for a similarly tragic incident. O’Rourke’s blanket statements about the make and model of weapons are as polarizing as GOP politicians ignoring the connections between gun access laws and the current violence.
“This is not a partisan issue; this is not a political issue. This is an unimaginable moment that will impact the lives of those who lost their children and those who survived,” Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick went on to add. If this statement by Patrick were to hold water, then we as taxpayers and voters should expect some kind of action to follow.
Irresponsible Journalism and Law Enforcement
The audio recording below was submitted to The Oklahoma Post and presents the father of a mentally ill suspect of gun violence and the Oconee Enterprise editor Michael Prochaska who berates Mr. Moyer for not getting in contact with their publication. The articles were written with information from Mr. Mathews, have no mention of the past interactions of then juvenile Moyer and Mathews, have no mention of gun accessibility to this tragedy, and fail to mention the publicly available mental health mentionings by the justice system.
The whole of the truth is rarely told by the media reporting on gun violence breaking news. If the truth isn’t told, not only does justice fail in America, but improvements to society are permanently stunted. The service of journalism to advance better gun safety policy is to present the public with the truth of the matter. Sometimes that begins with having accurate headlines.
On December 28, 2021, a 20-year-old male in Oconee County Georgia was suffering from an apparent psychotic event. The local news organization immediately connected with the local political regime to portray the gun violence in a particular way, regardless of the risk
The journalism ethics and intent of the organization’s actions were confronted by the father when learning that the story of his ex-partner’s death was sourced directly from local law enforcement and excluded pertinent public information regarding the suspect’s mental health. The source was a local politician once accused of selling narcotics out of his home and it is alleged by witnesses that the source provided narcotics to the young suspect.
The surviving family of Peyton Moyer found out about the tragic shooting through the Oconee County Sheriff’s publicly funded social media accounts that mention nothing of the connections or medical background of the suspect.
When breaking news hits the tv airwaves or makes its way into a tweet over today’s blazing internet, a headline normally reads with the most intensely reactionary words to concisely tell what, where, and when of the event.
If known, a “who” of the story may be insinuated. We are desensitized as the public to accept the usual; we read that a local person, usually a man or teen was a gunman or shooter, usually in a home, mall, or school, with the headline almost always ending in “Police Say”. Since Police and Judges have immunity, it’s easy to pass intentionally bad information off to law enforcement.
Seen on Fox News on T.V. shortly after, while the family was in complete shock and terrible pain:
The trend of the media simply adding the blanket statement of the “police say” to the end of any headline does not make a news story accurate, no more than allowing the NRA to write the follow-up story. The news media will claim that more information is on the way or will later update the public with necessary retractions, but rarely does new information make the front page.
It’s within the details of those follow-up stories, and in the information that the police “didn’t say”, that we could find some answers that might save the country from more tragedy.
The rest of the story is where the public and investigators would find the causal factors to pivot change. If we could mend some of these causal factors and put in place common-sense gun control laws, this continued spree of gun violence could be positively impacted.
Similar to Watkinsville Georgia’s efforts to suppress evidence, ex-prosecutor from Uvalde Sara Spector states openly that the media and police can often collude, “I can say based on my past interactions with Uvalde PD, you will never know the truth about what went down”.
When the media and politicians intentionally misrepresent or mislead the public away from those causal factors, away from “The Rest of The Story”, it leaves major gaps in how future gun violence can be prevented. In the case of the Georgia family, questions needed to be answered about how a gunman with severe mental health issues was able to even have the chance of possessing a gun?
After a near-daily occurrence of American gun violence, the headlines and stories very rarely tie together the complexities that the American family faces in getting adequate mental health care and preventing gun violence in their homes. Police and District Attorneys, by natural bias, cannot be trusted with telling the whole truth to the public, especially when their credibility is on the line during that instant for failing to protect communities.
The Law: How Do People with Mental Health Issues Get Access to Guns?
Many states, such as Oklahoma have actually outlawed the ability of counties and cities to create red flag laws.
The nation’s first anti-red flag gun law was put on the books in Oklahoma in 2020 to supposedly strengthen and protect citizens’ Second Amendment rights, however, it has made safety in Oklahoma a second stage event. Sen. Nathan Dahm, R-Broken Arrow, authored Senate Bill 1081, which was signed into law by governor Stitt, also known as the Anti-Red Flag Act.
Federal law generally prohibits possession of firearms and ammunition by people who have been found by a court, board, commission, or other lawful authority to be a danger to themselves or others, or to lack “the mental capacity to contract or manage [their] own affairs,” as a result of their mental condition or illness. Federal law also generally prohibits people from possessing firearms if they have been involuntarily hospitalized or committed to a mental health or substance abuse treatment facility by a court, board, commission, or other lawful authority.
No federal law, however, requires states to report the identities of these individuals and the identities of the individuals in the homes where they live when any of those persons become ineligible to possess firearms to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (“NICS”) database, which the FBI uses to perform background checks before firearm transfers. As a result, effective state record reporting laws and how they are exercised by the local populace are the only barrier to ensuring the effectiveness of the background check system.
Persons that should not have access to weapons, because of their mental condition or illness, can easily gain access to them through friends, family members, and sometimes by purchasing the weapons themselves through gun shows or legally through local dealers.
The Gun Dealers
Expecting gun dealers to be a barrier in the fight against gun violence is currently a lost cause in America. The entities who profit from the legal gun industry of concealed carry licenses, specialized ammunition, the latest accessories, the most balanced of weapons, and, oddly enough, even gun safety classes are only ever focused on their profits. Rightfully so. It’s a lifestyle and has been since America’s wild west days of the frontier. Profits over people aren’t specifically the problem. It’s allowing ignorance and subjective guesswork of persons’ private health information and safe home practices that are allowing for incidents of gun violence to take place in their hometowns.
Last week we called the local gun shops of one Georgia community that has suffered through years of gun tragedy, its most recent being a December 28th incident in which a 20-year-old, with an 8th-grade education, living in an abusive home, with years of known mental health issues, is alleged to have used a gun to shoot and kill members of his family. The community is the hometown of Georgia Governor Brian Kemp, who recently loosened the state’s gun laws.
Those Watkinsville, GA and Clarke County, GA gun dealers were asked their opinions on the recent Uvalde, Texas tragedy and gun access to the mentally ill.
One shop owner, when asked if he thought it was appropriate to sell a gun to a person who lived in a home with a paranoid schizophrenic and documented domestic violence asked to remain anonymous when he stated, “Well, every home in America is going to have someone in it with a mental health issue. The real problem is that these children don’t know the destructive power of a gun, they play video games all day, but never actually see a gun shoot a water bottle or something.“
Another gun dealer said, “Of course, we wouldn’t sell a gun to that person. If anyone comes in here and looks a little off, then I don’t complete the purchase”.
This complete lack of regulation and purchasing powers being left solely at the discretion of the individual shop owners is only one piece of the entire very fragmented structure. If the general public never hears the real stories of families affected by gun violence, the truthful matters at hand in getting mental health treatment, and the number of homes in America with mental health problems, then the issues never have to be addressed by the leadership of our communities. We allow these issues to continue to be swept under the rug.
The Charleston Loophole
The major causal factors of gun violence are identified by Think Tanks such as Everytown, which actively provide legislators with groundbreaking independent research to help end gun violence.
This group has provided information highlighting the intentional Swiss cheese-like holes in our laws that gun dealers and politicians hope the public will never see or, if they do, will ignore. One of the focuses of the research group is the 2015 mass shooting at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal (A.M.E.) Church in Charleston, S.C., where a gunman killed nine innocent people and the tragedy exposed dangerous gaps in our gun laws, commonly referred to as the “Charleston loophole.” The shooter, who was technically prohibited by law from possessing a firearm, was able to acquire a gun before the FBI could complete his background check. Although the FBI needed more time to investigate, federal law allowed the dealer to complete the purchase and transfer the gun after 3 days even though the check had not been completed.
Currently, federal law allows a “default proceed” whereby a federally licensed firearms dealer (FFL) can transfer a gun to a customer even if the federal background check is not completed within 3 business days of the background check request having been sent to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS).
Over 35,000 guns were transferred to prohibited purchasers between 2008 and 2017 because of the 3-day rule. Between 2006 and 2015, 10% of denials for most prohibited categories took longer than the three-day period. Several states have adopted policies to close the Charleston Loophole.
The Charleston Loophole needs to be revisited and the idea of who can be denied needs to be expanded. While 90% of federal checks are completed in minutes, those that take longer than 3 days are 4x’s as likely to be denied. Yet those are the purchases that are allowed by the loophole, default sales to those who otherwise would have been denied had the background check been able to be completed before the expiration of the three-day period.
The NRA argues that expanding the Brady Act would result in arbitrary delays affecting the rights of millions of people every year and make it more difficult for law-abiding Americans to defend themselves and their families.
However, between January and mid-November 2020, the FBI had flagged nearly 6,000-gun sales because a purchaser who could not legally possess a firearm was able to buy one because of the Charleston Loophole, more than in any other entire calendar year. The NRA argument also does not address the issue of the safety threat being Suicide or from family members within the home.
This is particularly true of domestic violence denials:
According to record shared by BradyUnited.org, from 2006-2015, 30 percent of background check denials involving records of misdemeanor crimes of domestic violence, took longer than three business days.
Over 6,000 firearms were transferred to persons convicted of misdemeanor domestic violence between 2006 and 2015 due to default proceedings.
In 2017, 23% of the cases where a gun was transferred to a prohibited purchaser through a default proceed transaction involved someone prohibited due to a misdemeanor conviction of domestic violence or a domestic violence restraining order.
The Enhanced Background Checks Act of 2021 or H.R. 1446, provides the background check system with additional time to make a final determination on a potential firearms purchaser before a licensed dealer can transfer a gun.
H.R. 1446 extends the initial background check review period from three to 10 business days. After the initial 10 business day period, if a background check has not been completed, a purchaser may request an expedited review to spur the FBI to complete their investigation. This legislation will potentially reduce the amount of default proceed transfers to prohibited persons.
Unfortunately, even an expanded Brady Act, as it is currently written, H.R. 1446 doesn’t currently expand to report and monitor the mental health status of family members and others in the same household as the applicant for the firearm. It provides a false sense of safety against unlawful purchasers, but not for lawful purchases in which the threats are not identified.
Gaps In State Laws
Most state laws require the state crime reporting database, such as the Georgia Crime Information Center (GCIC), to provide to NICS background checkers all necessary criminal history information, wanted person records, and information concerning persons who have been involuntarily hospitalized to complete a gun safety background check. With this story, we are focused on Georgia as a case study for states removing mental health resources and easing gun laws simultaneously. The systems and failures of these governments are amazingly similar.
For state gun background checks to be successful, the GCIC must provide to the FBI and the NICS, following the federal Brady Act, information regarding whether a person has been involuntarily hospitalized. Often there are major failures in the workflow and information sharing that lead to thousands of guns going into the wrong homes yearly.
The probate courts must provide GCIC with information for only persons involuntarily hospitalized and no other mental health information, unless the person has been adjudicated mentally incompetent to stand trial or been found not guilty by reason of insanity at the time of the crime, based on the court clerks’ records for persons involuntarily hospitalized.
This information must be provided in a manner agreed upon at the state level by the Probate Judges Training Council, Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI), and Superior Court Clerks of Georgia to preserve the confidentiality of patients’ rights in all other respects.
In our sampling of cases for this article, each of the incidents could have been prevented by slight changes to the law that would allow for weapons of choice to be purchased by gun owners in safe homes, protecting those families, police officers, our school children, and the credibility of our elected leaders.
Following an incident involving a mentally ill person in Macon, Georgia in July of 2021, Bibb County Georgia Probate Judge Sarah Harris was interviewed by Kayla Solomon of local CBS Affiliate WMAZ who stated part of her job is deciding who gets approved and denied for gun licenses. “You have to understand that the laws relating to the issuance of a license for weapons carry is very black-and-white….until we fix the mental health system, it really doesn’t matter about the rest of it because that’s the part that’s really broken.”
In the state of Georgia, like many other blue and red states across the nation, if not flagged in the background check system, a citizen can be severely mentally ill, be living with someone who is severely mentally ill, have suffered alienation, been physically abused, bullied, etc. and still be able to get a gun license. If citizens can pass the user-submitted background check and subjective mental health evaluation, the person can get approved for gun purchase and license.
“What people misunderstand is the average person can’t just walk into the court and say, ‘I want to commit someone because they’re mentally ill.’ There’s a process you have to go through, and it’s generated from a hospital,” Harris told WMAZ.
“Those that have been taking medication and then they start to come off their medication and their family notices it, there’s not anything we can do for them until they fall apart. That’s the way our laws are written,” she says. Harris stated in the interview that she and other state leaders are working with Governor Brian Kemp to change some of the laws surrounding mental health but that never happened.
Current state laws allow 21-year-olds and up to purchase handguns, as well as ammunition, regardless of the mental health of any of the individuals in the household.
A Lack of Support For Parents of Mentally Ill Juveniles
Having a child with disabilities or behavioral health needs is stressful and nearly debilitating. There is no healthy home without behavioral and mental health service professionals working with parents and not as agents of the Family Court System. In addition, the community leaders, legislators, law enforcement, and politicians must accept the challenge to help parents confront this issue head-on, not actively work against them.
In general, Georgia law provides that the age of majority is 18 years old and every person under 18 is a minor, according to O.C.G.A. Section 19-7-2. According to this Statute, minors are not competent to consent to treatment by a mental health professional and parents must consent to treatment for their minor children who are under the age of 18.
While Peyton Moyer was a minor, in the custody of the Department of Juvenile Justice, and on probation, his family reached out numerous times to the probation officer to request behavioral health services. The public defender never returned the calls of the biological father. According to the Georgia Health Policy Center of Georgia State University, resources are available to the public, but many families find that the services aren’t accessible as they aren’t uniform throughout the system.
Parents should always call 911 if they believe their child is a threat to themself or someone else. And so, in 2021, the Moyer family called Oconee County Law Enforcement and informed the dispatcher that Peyton Moyer had behavioral health needs that were not being met. In addition, just weeks before the tragedy, the biological father had grave concerns for the mental health of his son and reached out to Georgia Crisis Access Line who then attempted to reach out to the home of Ashley Shutza, Benji Smith, Peyton Moyer, and minors. No information was ever provided back to Mr. Moyer regarding the attempted outreach.
A new Pew Research Center study of 130 countries and territories shows that the U.S. has the world’s highest rate of children living in single-parent households. How do policymakers plan to address the voices of the “non-custodial” parents of the nation who know their children like the back of their hands?
These familial cultural changes start by empowering and supporting the biological parents. A study of 1,977 children aged 3 and older living with a residential father or father figure found that children living with married biological parents had significantly fewer externalizing and internalizing behavioral problems than children living with at least one non-biological parent (Hofferth, 2006). 71% of high school dropouts are fatherless; and fatherless children have been shown to have more trouble academically, scoring poorly on tests of reading, mathematics, and thinking skills. Children from father-absent homes are more likely to be truant from school, more likely to be excluded from school, more likely to leave school at age 16, and less likely to attain academic and professional qualifications in adulthood (Kruk, 2012).
In data compiled and released by the Voices For Children’s Services, Mental Health America’s 2015 report on the State of Mental Health in America indicates that 8% of Georgia’s children have a serious emotional disorder – that’s 91,000 children. The report further estimates that more than 85,000 children in Georgia have mental health needs and are not receiving support or treatment.
The leading conditions affecting children are ADD/ADHD, developmental delays, anxiety, depression, and autism. Left untreated, these conditions limit the potential of our children, and may even result in untimely death by gun violence. Indeed, in 2018, 63 kids under the age of 18 committed suicide in Georgia, up from 30 deaths just five years earlier. Parent and family support groups can help, but it just isn’t enough to prevent gun violence.
We face a mental health crisis in America with our children that pills and shots alone can’t fix. Access to services matters. A 2019 study found that Oconee County Georgia and 77 other counties do not have a licensed psychologist on staff. Though this is a micro-view of the landscape, this is hardly an outlier as our mental healthcare infrastructure is consistently underfunded throughout the nation.
Emergency Involuntary Committals Should Immediately be Allowed by Parents
Waiting on a child to be involved with the juvenile justice system or graduate to the adult justice system to receive mental health care is immoral. Petitioners, often in poverty, must be able to afford uninterested attorneys by requesting the Court to issue an Order to Apprehend an individual, alleging the individual needs a mental evaluation.
The hurdles to jump over in order to involuntarily commit a dependent for a mental evaluation are high. Often too high for a parent to successfully champion. Two people have to petition the Court and attest to the fact that the individual is mentally ill or dependent on drugs, must have witnessed the behavior of an individual within 48-hours of their hearing date, or have a licensed doctor sign an official Request Form for any court action to take place.
30% of Georgia’s youth in the Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) custody have a diagnosable disorder and receive ongoing treatment, and 70% of youth in contact with DJJ have a mental illness; suicide is the second leading cause of death for adolescents in the state and the youngest child to commit suicide in Georgia was 8 years old.
When stories of gun violence hit, we see the visual of the after-effects immediately. It begins with visceral video and photos of blood streaming from the victims as they rush for safety, or of bodies of the deceased strewn around social media outlets. Next, our elected leaders offer thoughts and prayers. Then the people with agendas begin to argue for their side on social media, often presenting machismo examples of what can be done to prevent gun violence. The government hopes everyone forgets as the newest trauma slips out of the limelight, and the policymakers do nothing constructive for a change. Finally, the next mass shooting happens, and we rinse and repeat. Out of necessity, we have become incredibly numb to the trauma of watching people being killed while in church, attending elementary school, grocery shopping, or going to the movies.
The American Media’s Cycle of Death
The families of the shooters are often also spurned in this cycle. They may be interviewed at the time but after the media attention dies down, figuratively speaking, they are a silent resource that is cast aside. Some of the families of the shooters could tell important stories that might give insight into the changes needed, but often their voices are ignored or stomped out for political reasons. In our research, similarities were identified in each of the recent mass shooting suspects’ backgrounds that contributed to these incidents. Traumatic family court experiences, a failed juvenile justice system, the breakdown of the American family, legal abuse, failed mental health resources, and gaps in gun background check laws.
In a truthful search for change to our gun violence culture, we must speak with the families affected by gun violence because others have profit and politics to consider before enacting the needed protections.
We are at and have been at a crisis point regarding children’s mental healthcare in the United States of America but, still, somehow struggle to figure out what to do about it. Policymakers and community leaders are challenged to determine where to allocate resources amidst a vast and wide-ranging need. We are absolutely not the only country with mental health problems, or with violent video games available to children, nor do we own a trademark of fragmented family factions. However, we are the only country with insanely lax (and in some places virtually no) gun control. While we ABSOLUTELY need to have better mental healthcare, even if we had the best mental healthcare in the entire world, with the easiest access, these events would continue to happen if we do not enact better and far stricter gun controls.
To start that conversation, the media coverage of gun violence needs to be honest and end the sensationalism that journalism relies on. The ethics of local officials need to be examined closely. There can be resolutions that secure gun rights but also secure the safety of citizens. Unfortunately, the Enhanced Background Checks Act of 2021 (H.R. 1446) doesn’t go far enough because it doesn’t check the backgrounds and mental health of all family members and juveniles living under the same roof. Such gun violence prevention measures should also blend prevention strategies and education of government officials in an effort to overcome the tendency within many community service systems to operate in silos.
The mental health community and gun safety leaders must continue to take the lead in advocating for community-based collaborative problem-solving models to address the prevention of gun violence. There has been some success with community-based programs involving police training in crisis intervention and with community members trained in mental health first aid; however, there must be a way to ensure parents and other family members of persons who are having mental health crises can get help immediately whether they are physically present with the person or seeking help from afar.
Unfortunately, responsible gun storage and controlling the public image of an incident can only go so far. Without stricter gun control, involving parents, and addressing our country’s mental health crises, we will still be besieged by gun violence daily. Stigmatizing mental health isn’t the answer either.
Enough is enough! It’s time to stand up and fix the problems so no other families have to experience the nightmare of gun violence. Mental health treatment and gun reform must be a priority for every leader.
(Writing by Rachel Smith: Editing by Robbie Robertson)
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