The Kentucky House voted 97-1 Monday in favor of House Bill 308, proposed by Rep. Bob Damron. The measure would require Kentucky to report to the FBI when a person is committed, by a court, to a mental institution or if declared mentally ill by a court.
Federal law, in terribly offensive language, prohibits the sale of guns to individuals "adjudicated as a mental defective or who have been committed to a mental institution."
Previously, Kentucky had been one of many states that did not participate in this notification process.
One can't help but think that the recent shootings in Arizona contributed to the passage and proposal of this bill. The issues that present themselves in high-profile mass shootings deserve our sharpened focus on preventing future tragedies.
Yet, they also present sensitive and long-standing questions we, as a society, must grapple with while trying to balance individual liberty, privacy and public safety. It is impossible to eliminate all risks — even logical ones — and easy to resort to reactionary policymaking.
The truth is, we can expect more tragedies like the ones in Arizona and on the Virginia Tech campus, whether or not there is beefed-up law enforcement, more lists and more reporting.
What would have the most impact is more treatment for severe and chronic mental illnesses. Recent news reports have highlighted that incoming college freshman have higher rates of mental illness; 63 percent of them self-identified as having some mental health issue.
We also know that college-age years are when many serious illnesses become apparent and require intervention and treatment for the first time.
Yet, there is little funding for early diagnosis and prevention of these brain diseases — unlike the bombardment of information on sexually transmitted diseases, date rape and pregnancy.
We all shake our heads and claim disbelief when a tragedy puts the spotlight on mental health issues. But within a few days, "the next big thing" happens, the rhetoric fades and — with the exception of a few reactionary changes — we move on. Until it happens again. And it will because:
■ Since the 1950s, there has been a 90 percent reduction in the number of available psychiatric hospital beds. We have gone from one bed for every 300 people to one bed for every 3.000 people.
■ The criminal justice system is trying to serve the psychiatric care needs of 2 million people.
■ We refuse to adequately fund community treatment and services like housing for folks early in the course of their illnesses.
■ We cannot seek help for our mentally ill loved ones until they meet one very important criteria: dangerousness.
Something is very wrong when the law protects my loved one's right to be untreated and mentally ill to the point of being a danger to himself and the community, but then doesn't want him to exercise his constitutional right to keep and bear arms.