My Turn, Keith Townsend: If mental health is the problem, why cut funds for treatment?

Published 10:45 pm Sunday, December 3, 2017

This year, as of Nov. 24, there have been 323 mass shootings in the U.S. A mass shooting is defined as one in which at least four victims are either killed or wounded.

After the horrific attack that small country church outside of San Antonio, President Trump stated that our nation’s epidemic of gun violence has little to do with the weapons used, but is instead a mental health issue. While I assume the president’s position is widely held by many Americans, there are a number of mental health experts who would argue that people suffering from mental illness are more likely to be victims rather than perpetrators of violence.

However, I would like to set that debate aside and simply review President Trump’s and the Republican Party’s record concerning mental health care.

In February, President Trump, with the support of the Republican Congress, passed legislation rolling back an Obama era rule that was initiated after the slaughter of the school children at Sandy Hook. The Obama law had added a new group of people to the background registry for gun ownership. These people were receiving Social Security checks because they were unable to work due to the severity of their mental illness. It also made guns unavailable to those who had been legally deemed incapable of handling their own financial affairs. As a result, approximately 75,000 people were added to the gun registry database.

The Republican effort to end this legislation was supported by both the NRA and the ACLU. Sen. Chuck Grassley (R, Iowa) stated that, “If a specific individual is likely to be violent due to the nature of their mental illness, then the government should have to prove it.”

Also, one of our local congressmen, Richard Hudson, co-sponsored this legal reversal which removed thousands of seriously ill individuals from having to undergo a background check in order to own a gun. As a result, some of these people may, often through no fault of their own, present a serious threat to their fellow citizens.

The Republicans have made numerous unsuccessful attempts to repeal the Affordable Care Act (Obama Care), a law which for the first time requires insurance companies to provide at least basic coverage for mental health care. Another federal program that has for decades been a special target of Republican political attacks is of course Medicaid, which is designed to provide health coverage to low-income adults, children, pregnant women, the elderly and people with disabilities. In fact, 27 percent of all mental health services are provided through Medicaid.

North Carolina now has a population of over 10 million and there are only 900 beds specifically available for those suffering from acute mental health problems. In extreme cases, these patients may end up waiting in emergency rooms for several days hoping for a bed to open up anywhere in the state. Our Republican dominated legislature, however, cut $110 million from the state’s mental health budget in 2015 alone.

Despite their often-stated position that improvement in mental health care is the solution to preventing gun violence, Republican politicians in both Washington, D.C., and Raleigh have actively undermined the very policies that have been created to help the mentally ill.

Keith Townsend lives in Mount Ulla. Send My Turn submissions to