Mr. John Thompson
xxxx xxxxx xx xxx xx
Des Moines, IA 50310-4252
Thank you for contacting me regarding proposed gun safety measures and mental health reform. I appreciate hearing from you about these important topics.
Like all Americans, I was deeply saddened by the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. What added to our grief as a nation was that it also came on the heels of mass gun shootings in Colorado, Arizona, Wisconsin, and the senseless acts of violence that occur every day throughout our country. In light of all of these events, it is apparent that far too many Americans, including children, are needlessly losing their lives. We must come together as a country to prevent future tragedies and the senseless loss of life, and to ensure that no American lives in fear.
On January 17, 2013, the President put forward a specific plan to protect our children and communities by reducing gun violence. The plan includes legislative and executive action that combined would close background check loopholes, ban military-style assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, equip schools with safety resources and equipment, and increase access to mental health services.
As a hunter, I know that the recreational use and collection of guns is important to many Iowans and I will continue to work to protect the rights of law-abiding American gun owners.
But we need to ask whether people need unlimited access to any arms, including those capable of shooting hundreds of bullets in a very short time. We can support gun rights while continuing to support responsible legislation to reduce crime and make our schools and communities safer. Each of these goals is important and I believe that they can be accomplished simultaneously.
That is why, over the years, I have consistently supported common-sense measures to protect our communities. For example, in the past, I have voted in favor of legislation to close the loopholes on criminal background checks on gun purchases at gun shows, and to require gun manufacturers to include child safety locks on guns. I have also voted against a blanket liability exception for gun manufacturers and sellers.
The tragedy at Newtown also shined a light on the state of our country's mental health care system. Over the past several months, I have heard from many Iowans about this issue, and their voices have been joined with people across the nation, including President Obama, calling for us to take a hard look at improving access to mental health services. In so doing, it is important to combat a common, insidious misconception that people with mental illness are inherently violent. In fact, individuals with mental illness are far more likely to be the victims of violence than the perpetrators. We must remember that this unfounded stereotype is an impediment to reform, not a window into it.
With this in mind, on January 24, 2013, as Chairman of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, I convened a hearing to assess the state of America's mental health. We heard from expert government witnesses, as well as health care providers, mental health agencies, and patients. To view a webcast of this hearing, please visit US Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, & Pensions: Home
The hearing highlighted some of the shortcomings of the mental health care system. To begin with, mental health illnesses are chronic diseases that disproportionately affect young people under the age of 24. Yet the system appears to be failing some of these people. Less than half of children with an identified mental illness receive treatment, and the average gap between the onset of symptoms and the receiving of treatment is nearly a decade. Failing to diagnose and treat mental illness early in life seriously - and needlessly - aggravates adult mental health illnesses.
Shortcomings in diagnosis and treatment also spill over into other areas of society. For instance, a student struggling with a mental illness, like depression or anxiety, faces additional difficulties maintaining good grades and graduating on time. Our prisons are also overburdened by people who should be receiving treatment and substance abuse counseling as part of their rehabilitation.
We know that when individuals with mental illnesses receive appropriate treatment and support, they can recover and lead productive, healthy lives. I am currently examining proposals to strengthen access to mental health services in our communities, in schools, and in the clinical setting. In addition, as Chairman of the Senate Appropriations subcommittee that funds federal health initiatives, I plan to take a close look at opportunities to strengthen funding measures. I am also heartened at the reforms we have already made. The landmark health insurance reform law, the Affordable Care Act (ACA), provides nearly 30 million previously-uninsured Americans with access to health insurance plans that will be required to include coverage for mental health and substance abuse services. Integrating primary care and mental health services will reduce barriers to care and lessen the stigma of mental illness.
Again, thank you for sharing your views with me. Please do not hesitate to let me know how you feel on any issue that concerns you.
United States Senator