UGA Students Express Concern About Gun Laws, Mental Health Care After California Shooting

At least 12 people, including a police officer, were killed Nov. 7 when a man opened fire at a bar in southern California before killing himself.

The incident took place at The Borderline Bar & Grill in Thousand Oaks, Calif., a city in the northwestern part of greater Los Angeles that has been ranked among the safest cities in the U.S., according to the Thousand Oaks Acorn.

The bar was filled with hundreds of people, but many of them were students attending a college country music night, the New York Times reports.

That news really hit home for some University of Georgia students, who wondered whether a similar incident could happen in Athens.

Last year, Georgia passed a law that allows students and faculty to carry guns on public college campuses, according to National Conference of State Legislatures, a national organization that provides resources and tools to states.

“It really stresses me out,” because, shootings are “so ridiculously common,” said Laura Hudgens, a doctoral student at UGA.

“It just makes me more frustrated with our current situation,” said Anna Floum, a senior studying public relations and political science. She added that more needs to be done to provide help to people with mental health problems.

The recent shooting is the latest in a rash of troubling incidents nationwide, which often prompt discussions about mental health issues.

Since 2017, there have been 16 such mass shootings in the U.S., killing a total of 175 people and injuring 508, show data compiled by The Washington Post. In Georgia, the last incident was in Atlanta in 2005.

Already reports state that the California gunman, a 28-year-old member of the Marine Corps named Ian David Long, had several interactions with law enforcement over the past year, including one in April that prompted a mental health investigation. Specialists had determined he was not an immediate danger to himself or other, the New York Times reported.

Mental health’s role in gun violence has been studied for several years, but its role is sometimes overstated during high-profile incidents, studies suggest.

A 2016 study compiled a list of shooters who killed four or more people since 1966.  Researchers found that of the 88 shooters, only about 12 had been diagnosed with a psychotic disorder.

Laura Hudgens, a doctoral student at UGA, had a similar concern.

“I think it is kind of damaging to people who have mental health issues,” she said. “I think it overlooks more fundamental causes of stuff like this.”

In an article published in the BBC this summer, mental illness was referred to as a distraction by gun lobbyists.

Georgia law allows anyone with a firearm permit to carry a firearm outside of their property. The possession of a firearm by someone who has a mental illness is regulated at the state and federal levels. In Georgia, a firearm permit will not be issued to anyone who has been hospitalized at a mental health facility or alcohol treatment center in the last five years. They are also not issued to individuals unable to stand trial or those who were declared not guilty by reason of insanity at the time of a crime.

But, others believe the law by itself will never totally prevent gun violence, and say that “soft target” like schools and bars may have to take extra steps to boost security. 

“If someone is set on committing a crime, there’s not much you can do but be vigilant,” said UGA law professor Alan Cook. “We are a self-governing people. We choose to do the right thing….but there are some who do not.”

Alex Boss, Emily Webb and Prajakta Dhapte are graduate students focusing on health and medical journalism.

 

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