Improving access to mental health care may help stop mass violence
A small unit of the Federal Bureau of Investigation may be paving the way for state governments in search of a system that could help prevent mass shootings and violence, not through weapons bans, but through threat assessment and mental health treatment.
It is clear most of those who decide to carry out mass shootings are very disturbed people. They are mentally ill. And many of them obtained their weapons through entirely legal means, unlikely to be changed by legislation.
According to the FBI’s Behavioral Analysis Unit, nearly 150 shootings and violent attacks were stopped this year by helping local authorities assess the threat presented by a person of concern. The Behavioral Threat Assessment Center then makes recommendations based on specific cases – arrest, if there has been illegal activity, or mental health care.
By many accounts, such an assessment might have stopped gunmen like Adam Lanza at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. Lanza was described by too many who knew him as “troubled,” with a fascination with violence that was apparent to teachers and acquaintances. But his case did not reach the small FBI unit that might have stopped him and gotten him help.
After Sandy Hook, President Barack Obama said, “We’re going to need to work on making access to mental health care at least as easy as access to a gun,” but quickly got caught up in gun-control frenzy, and has not since promoted programs like the Behavioral Analysis Unit.
States and other federal agencies need their own method for heading off the next mass shooting or act of violence. Though the FBI has reportedly stopped hundreds of incidents since 2011, it is, sadly, too great a task for one small group of people. It may not be perfect, but relevant agencies across the country might look to the Behavioral Analysis Unit as a template for their own effort to improve access to mental health care for those ready to snap.