Thank you for contacting me about the recent Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Connecticut and your concern about the potential erosion of our 2nd Amendment rights. As an educator and father of five, two of whom are still in school, the horror that took place on the morning of Friday, December 14, 2012 is unfathomable. My deepest thoughts and prayers are with the families and friends of the 27 victims and the Newtown community.
We all must work together to prevent these types of tragedies. I believe we have to start by addressing the culture of violence that has consumed our country. Our news media, movies, television shows, and video games display endless violent images that glorify and inspire this behavior. We have to stop sensationalizing these murderers. According to KidsHealth, the average child spends 28 hours a week watching television and it is estimated that by the time this child leaves elementary school, he or she will have witnessed 8,000 murders and over 100,000 other acts of violence (and this does not include violent video games). According to The Parents Television Council, by the time children reach the age of 18, they have seen more than 40,000 murders and 200,000 acts of violence. I believe this is a major contribution to the problem.
As a physician, I also feel mental health care reform needs to be a part of the discussion. It is important to remember that those with mental illnesses rarely commit acts of violence and this low incidence must be put into perspective. However, we need to make sure children and young adults with mental illness are diagnosed and have access to proper therapy in order to help them cope with their condition. Studies show that more than 10% of children in the United States may benefit from some sort of mental health treatment, but most do not receive help. There is a shortage of resources and services available to serve those that need mental health care support. Furthermore, where these resources exist, their implementation could be improved and used more effectively.
Like you, I agree that we must enforce to the fullest extent possible our current gun control laws that protect people from danger, like preventing gun ownership by criminals or those suffering from a severe psychological disorder that could result in a violent act. Currently, over 4,450 crimes related to guns exist on the federal law books, and tens of thousands have been proposed in the Federal Register. According to the Brady Campaign, Connecticut has the 5th toughest gun laws in the country including an assault weapons ban. Norway, a nation with some of the toughest gun laws in the world, not too long ago had to deal with a mass murderer killing over 80 people, most of whom were children. Illegal use of a firearm, as was the case with the Sandy Hook shooter, should always be prosecuted to the fullest extent.
I believe that by addressing our country's increasingly worrisome culture of violence, and implementing strategies to generally improve our mental health system, we can lessen the occurrence of these tragedies by targeting the root causes of mass murders. I am grateful for your comments, and you may rest assured that I will keep your views in mind as legislation on this issue is discussed. I hope that you will feel free to contact me on any issue of importance to you or your family in the future.
Andy Harris, M.D.
Member of Congress