Local gun advocates say we need mental health reform, not new gun laws

January 16, 2013
Rifles are pictured on display at Johnson’s Sporting Goods in Eighty Four. Two of the guns featured, the AK-47 and the AR-15, may be threatened if legislation containing assault-weapon language is passed by Congress. - Aaron Kendeall / Observer-Reporter Order a Print

Following Wednesday’s announcement by President Barack Obama endorsing gun control laws, gun advocates in the Washington area argued a need for the country to address mental health concerns.

At Johnson’s Sporting Goods in Eighty Four, another hectic business day passed as gun enthusiasts purchased arms and ammunition.

“We were too busy to listen to the press conference,” said co-owner Mary Anna Johnson. “It’s been so crazy and we are so busy that we haven’t even heard what the new measures are.”

Obama announced Wednesday that he would strengthen existing laws by using executive orders in addition to supporting new legislation. But Johnson said she first noticed a steady uptick in demand for firearms and supplies following the re-election of Obama. “Once the word got out we may want to restrict gun sales,” Johnson said, “gun sales went through the roof. The manufacturers can’t make them fast enough.”

The massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., in December led to a further boost in sales. Johnson said it was too early to determine whether the president’s announcement would make any difference.

There was one customer that was inquiring about an AR-15 rifle inside the Johnsons’ shop Wednesday, but he said his interest had nothing to do with the latest political announcement.

“Americans don’t like being told what to do,” Johnson said. “It didn’t work with Prohibition and it won’t work with this. Maybe it’s time to look at what law-abiding people really want.”

Johnson said the answer to America’s gun violence problem doesn’t have to do with what kind of firearms or magazines are available, but in addressing mental health concerns.

“Everyone in the industry would do everything they could to prevent” an event like Sandy Hook “if we could,” Johnson said. “But you cannot legislate crazy. I really think we should be looking into mental health care.”

Johnson’s sentiment was echoed by one area legislator.

“The underlying cause in mass tragedies like Newtown is that the perpetrator had an untreated or undertreated mental illness,” said U.S. Rep. Tim Murphy, R-Upper St. Clair, in a statement released shortly after the Obama’s remarks. “I had hoped for more from the President in this area so I am going to be relentless in embarking on a meaningful effort to gather information, determine the causes, identify the treatments, and make sure all federal dollars on mental health are spent effectively because it’s not just what is in a person’s hand that makes the act violent, it is what’s in his mind.

“I will not allow this opportunity to go by without working on meaningful reforms in the mental health care system that will ultimately save lives,” Murphy said.

According to OpenSource.org, Murphy received $5,000 in donations from the National Rifle Association in the 2012 election cycle.

Although he also singled out mental health reform, U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, D- Pa., took it a step further.

“I continue to be a strong supporter of the Second Amendment, and believe in the right of citizens to own guns for their own protection as well as for hunting, recreation and collection,” Casey said in a statement. “Nonetheless, after reflecting on the power of the weapon and the number of bullets that hit each child in Sandy Hook, the reinstatement of a ban on military-style weapons and high capacity magazines are two common-sense steps that I support.”

Rick Hamilton, of Plumsock, also believed the root problem was mental health. Although Hamilton is an employee at ARH Sporting Goods in Washington, he emphasized that he was speaking as a private citizen and not representing the store.

“I am old enough to remember some things,” said Hamilton. “There was a time when people who were dangerously mentally ill were kept in institutions. Every time there is a violent incident, especially in a school, you have people scratching their heads to identify the people who need help. But I doubt there’s a third-grade teacher who couldn’t tell you which of their kids needed help.”



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