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Newtown: A call to action

Published December 29, 2012 1:01 am

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Tragedies such as Newtown, sad to say, are becoming ever more common in the United States. The violence experienced in Tucson, Aurora, Clackamas, Virginia Tech or Trolley Square are horrific and numbing, but the loss of the innocent lives in Newtown should rally us as a community, state and nation to take meaningful action.

As a Connecticut native and the father of three children in elementary school, the tragedy in Newtown, Conn., hits close to home. My heart goes out to those who are suffering.

As the leader of a county government, I am struck by the following written by Dr. Ronald Manderscheid of the National Association of Counties: "We must come to terms with the fact that 13 years of war in Iraq and Afghanistan have changed us and our society in ways that we do not yet fully understand. One only needs to turn on a television to view multiple murders each night. Or, just play a video game, and one can participate in several thousand 'kills' over the course of an hour. Each day, there are 32 murders in America.

"Our social integration is ebbing away, and we are rapidly becoming inured to violence and death. In an era of global, instant communication, we are more distant than ever from each other. We must recognize these glaring symptoms and act."

There are actions that we can take or should at least consider taking. Some of these are recommended by many experts, including Manderscheid:

• Allow assault weapons and large capacity magazines only in the hands of those who can and should possess them.

I grew up in a hunting family which owned and respected guns. Even most hunters and gun owners will admit that assault weapons and large-capacity magazines belong only in the hands of our military and law enforcement, and those trained to use them.

• Immediately set about developing new standards for our entertainment industry.

Violence and death are so commonplace in our movies, television, video games and music, all of which exude violence and death. Computer animations have made this violence ever more horrible. We can and must take responsibility for this as parents, consumers, and citizens.

• Immediately set about rebuilding our local communities.

Let us rekindle a sense of community. The community traditionally has been a place of safety, comfort and support. Churches, schools, retail shopping areas and neighborhoods should be places that children and their parents should not fear, but instead find refuge in them. Sociologists have known for centuries that social integration and support reduce conflict and violence. Good social integration also reduces trauma and its negative effects, including mental illness.

• Immediately double the capacity of public county behavioral healthcare systems.

I have become acutely aware over my last eight years in public life that it is virtually impossible to get mental health care for many people who desperately need it. As mayor, I have been responsible for public mental health services in our county and realize that only about a third of those with moderate mental illness and two thirds of those with severe mental illness ever receive any care at all. Why? Because our public mental health systems lack the fundamental resources and capacity to deliver much-needed care. Health care reform — especially the expansion of Medicaid — provides a wonderful opportunity to change this deplorable situation. We must do it.

• Immediately initiate training to recognize the signs of mental illness and to promote help-seeking when needed.

Most students go through high school and college without a single hour of training about mental illness, its signs or its treatment. We can't expect people to step forward or to seek help for a family member with mental illness when we don't even provide them the rudimentary tools to do so.

I recognize that Utah will not be amenable to restrictions on gun ownership, but certainly we can place some prudent restrictions on high-capacity weaponry. We can make our communities safe and welcoming. We can offer better training for the early identification of mental illness. Finally, we can and must expand treatment of mental illness as part of a comprehensive health care delivery system.

Peter Corroon is mayor of Salt Lake County.