Tom Gangel: Bad information

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Regarding recent articles and letters to the editor concerning Colorado gun legislation, I’d like to address critical inaccuracies and misrepresentations. To be fair, the items in the Steamboat Today are not alone in singling out mental illness as a cause of violence and the answer to effective gun control. This nonscientific and inaccurate point of view can be damaging to our communities’ health.

The research and evidence clearly do not support this position. Statistics instead indicate that those with mental illness are 1) much more likely to be a victim than a perpetrator of violence and 2) if a mentally ill individual does become violent, that violence is usually directed against oneself. But one must acknowledge the current burden of stigma surrounding mental illness. It is not in anyone’s best interest to increase stigma, deterring people from seeking treatment by linking common mental illness to the ability to purchase and own a gun.

We, the public, tend to ease our fears by thinking that those who perpetrate mass murder or violence must be mentally ill. We do this because we like to think that those with mental illness are very different from us. The fact is they are us. One in five of us suffers from a mental illness sometime during our lives. This means that most everybody lives, works or knows someone diagnosed with mental illness. Often, we have no idea who around us has a mental illness.

We also like to think that those who commit violent acts are different from us, as well. But the vast majority of violence is perpetrated by the general population. Research shows that 96 percent of mass murders (four or more people killed) were perpetrated by persons without a diagnosable mental illness. Clearly, putting the focus of gun legislation and blame for this violence on the mentally ill doesn’t fix this issue.

I am in full agreement that more support and resources need be allocated to those with a mental illness or substance-abuse problem. It would make our country and our cities friendlier, more productive places to live. But it would not solve the problem of gun violence.

The real predictors of violence appear to be loss — such as divorce, romantic breakup or loss of a job — or trauma — such as abuse as a child, domestic violence or bullying. Studies show that frequent or intense anger can be predictors of violence, too. All of these conditions occur in the general population just as frequently as they do among those with mental illness. All of these conditions are exacerbated by substance abuse, especially alcohol abuse.

We have serious societal issues that we must address, but the hard fact is that persons with mental illness are less, not more, dangerous or prone to violence than you or I. Any legislation or propagated belief that reinforces stigma regarding acknowledging mental illness or seeking treatment for it is misguided.

Tom Gangel

Colorado West Regional Mental Health regional director

Comments

Jim McGee 1 year, 7 months ago

Tom Gangel and I seem to disagree on at least one major point. Civilization has progressed to the point in the United States where sane people do not commit mass murder! There is absolutely no question in my mind that any individual who commits mass murder is a lunatic because sane people don't do things like that. They need to be either executed or locked up for life with no possibility of parole. It isn't a question of whether or not they can receive proper treatment. If they commit mass murder, they have forfeited any right to a future life of their own. In this country, everyone has the right to a speedy trial and they also have the right to a speedy sentencing and execution if that is determined.

Guns aren't the issue, sanity is the issue! Unfortunately, the law says that somone must be adjudicated insane for that point to show up on their firearm application. I doubt that any of the mass murderers or terrorists have been through the adjudication process, and it is unlikely that they would care in any case. If they have decided to kill, they will kill! They aren;t concerned about legal technicalities.

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Rick Pighini 1 year, 7 months ago

Mr. Gangel, your point is correct. Unfortunately we are dealing with a uneducated society where facts and statistics mean nothing. Your job of identifying and helping the mentally ill is made easier by reading these posts. We also now know which of the local mentally ill have weapons. This will help relieve the pressure on our doctors while they try to help the government figure out who has guns. The interesting thing about it all is none of this makes a difference. If you folks spent as much time volunteering to causes you believe in as you do making up crap we would all live in a better place. The venom on these posts is what's wrong with society. Education is the first step to solving all our problems. Reading BS on the Internet is not education, get out of your houses turn off the screen and be active in making our world a better place. To all you gun carrying self protecting cowboys, while working for the Alaskan dept. of fish and game we were issued 44 mags. In my three years I only had to draw it on a 300lb halibut. The rest of the situations we encountered were best solved with firm reasonable discussion. While even being shot upon we were able to talk the gun away. So put your guns in a safe place before you trip and shoot yourself in the foot.

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jerry carlton 1 year, 7 months ago

Jim They need the death penalty enforced quickly. If the kill large numbers of people, they will have no thoughts about killing a corrections officer or prison guard. These officers/prison guards recive very little respect from the public as there seems to be a rotten one turn up with regularity. 99% of them are regular guys who have children, wives, brothers, sisters, and mothers and fathers. They deserve some protection too.

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