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Where Are All of the Mental Health Reform Bills?

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The Colorado Mental Health Institute at Pueblo (credit: MySpace)

The Colorado Mental Health Institute at Pueblo (credit: MySpace)

Written by Dominic Dezzutti

As the gun control debate rages both in Washington and here in Colorado, I keep wondering when all of the controversial and sweeping mental heath regulations will be proposed.

Both President Barack Obama and Gov. John Hickenlooper have mentioned the need to address mental health issues in speeches. And when the tragedies in Aurora and Newtown occurred, while anguish over gun access certainly stirred, many questions were asked about how this country handles mentally impaired people.

So that is why it surprises me that we have not heard more about mental health reform because it seems that not only is the reform needed, but it would also balance the different gun law proposals coming out of Congress and the Colorado Legislature. It’s a needed move, but also a smart political move to present mental health reforms alongside gun control reforms.

Presented in balance, the proposals would look like a complete approach to address the mass shootings in the United States and would be much more difficult to defeat in the court of public opinion. But with the gun access proposals stealing the headlines and limelight both locally and nationally, the battle is lining up as a Second Amendment showdown, and not a solution to mass shootings.

Even if the Senate is able to pass sweeping gun legislation in Washington D.C., the same proposals are not likely to see smooth sailing in the House. Extended battles over the Second Amendment and gun registration will continue all while little to no progress is made on any mental health proposals.

I find this lack of progress even more ironic considering that we will find out in a few weeks if the accused shooter in the Aurora shootings will submit an insanity defense. The trial of the Aurora shooter may take on detailed examination of mental health issues before lawmakers do.

This is not to say that some gun reforms wouldn’t be appealing to most Americans. But at some point, the other major side of these violent incidents must be considered.

Without addressing mental health problems in our society sooner than later, the people who are so ardently looking to address gun issues will look like they are using the situation to forward their own goals and not solve future mass shootings.

Right now, those are the accusations being lobbed from pro gun rights advocates. Those allegations are not sticking right now, but they may have stronger adhesive powers if we get to the one year anniversary of the Aurora shootings without major mental health reforms.

Sadly, we are less than six months away from that awful anniversary.

Most of Americans surveyed in the days after the tragedies at Aurora and Newtown said they wanted to see reforms on multiple levels including gun access and mental health reforms.

While lawmakers have been more than happy to consider the first half of the equation, we are overdue for proposals for the all important second half of the equation.

About The Blogger

- Dominic Dezzutti, producer of the Colorado Decides debate series, a co-production of CBS4 and Colorado Public Television, looks at the local and national political scene in his CBSDenver.com blog. Read new entries here every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Dezzutti writes about federal, state and local matters and how our elected leaders are handling the issues important to Colorado. Dezzutti also produces the Emmy winning Colorado Inside Out, hosted by Raj Chohan, on Colorado Public Television.

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