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BAKER: Bipartisan Safer Communities Act Does Not Do as Advertised

In June 2022, President Biden signed the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act into law. This legislation was due to the presumed need for further legislation after the outcry to curtail gun violence and mass shootings. Those on the left have for years been screaming for more gun-control legislation, and those on the right have sought refuge in the Second Amendment. This legislation was the common ground for both sides of the aisle.

Among the signature features of this bill was the funding for mental health services in the form of the following:

—$250 million over four years to provide states with flexible funding to create community mental health services through the SAMHSA Community Mental Health Block Grant program.

—$240 million over four years to assist students with mental health disorders and educate school personnel on mental health disorders through SAMHSA’s Project AWARE.

—$150 million to implement the 988 National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

—$120 million over four years for SAMHSA to train first responders engaging with individuals with mental disorders.

—$80 million over four years to facilitate cooperation between pediatric primary care providers and mental health specialists.

—$60 million over five years to train pediatric primary care physicians in mental healthcare through the HRSA Primary Care Training and Enhancement Program.

—$40 million over four years to assist children who have experienced traumatic events through SAMHSA’s National Child Traumatic Stress Network.

On the surface, this looks like needed funding. However, it is not pertinent to gun control. What makes it worse is the expanded infrastructure and increased criminalization provisions such as:

—$750 million over five years for Byrne Justice Assistance Grant Program crisis prevention programs. This sum is allocated to states to support creating and maintaining crisis intervention programs for state courts, including red flag law programs and mental health courtdrug court or veterans court programs.

—$300 million over five years to fund provisions of the STOP School Violence Act.

—$250 million over five years for community violence intervention programs.

—$200 million over five years for the National Instant Criminal Background Check System.

—$100 million to fund FBI expenses.

As good as these provisions may sound, in reality, community intervention programs adversely affect minority communities. In a recent study by the Department of Education, Black students are 2.3 times more likely to be referred to law enforcement or subjected to a school-related arrest than their White counterparts. Even further, school-age Black females are six times more likely to receive out-of-school suspensions for disciplinary issues than their White female classmates.

Throwing money at a problem has never solved the problem, as history teaches us time and again. Students of color have historically been marginalized and have experienced school discipline at disproportionate levels than their counterparts of other ethnic groups. For already targeted groups, the added layers of surveillance and law enforcement interaction lead to the worst-case scenarios of increased discipline and decreased graduation rates. All this leads to increased contact with the criminal justice system, which leads to diminished attendance rates, fewer persons of color attending post-secondary education and increased minority levels in adult prisons. This is not how to make communities safer.

While we applaud the need to address mental health issues, sadly legislation like this puts more focus on “fixing” it too far down the line. According to the National Center for State Courts, jails on all levels have become the largest providers of mental health services across the country. Fixing mental health in jails and prisons, while laudable, is not an area of expertise for already overworked and under-compensated correctional officers, many of whom may also be under their own mental and physical health issues because of their chosen vocation.

Accredited mental health institutions and their trained professionals must take the lead early and often and — if need be — intervene where the courts and correctional systems have failed.

The path to safety starts with education. It starts with rebuilding broken families. It begins with making a concerted effort to invest in our youth through efforts to uplift their dreams and support them in those dreams. It starts with communities relying on evidence-based strategies instead of arbitrary incarceration without due process of law.

Instead of overreaching legislation, we must allow law enforcement officers to do what they are trained and mandated to do: arrest those violating the law. We must have prosecutors who are not afraid to prosecute those bad actors, regardless of public outcry or opinion. We must restore the ability of families to regain their rightful role in the upbringing of children. We must reverse this devastating trend of fatherless homes that were created after the destructive government-initiated War on Poverty. We must encourage fathers and other positive role models to engender positive actions in our youths instead of the negative role models we see prevalent in society that lead to bad lifestyle choices, which can and do lead to lawlessness.

Until those issues are addressed, the Safer Communities Act does not deliver as advertised.

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POINT: Addressing Gun Violence: Beyond the Mental Health Rhetoric

For an alternate point of view see: COUNTERPOINT: Restricting Second Amendment Rights Isn’t Solution to Mass Shootings

The harrowing mass shooting in Lewiston, Maine, has again thrust the U.S. back into the all-too-familiar and increasingly frustrating cycle of grief, rage, and legislative stagnation. A predictable pattern ensues: gun violence, assault weapons blamed, redirection of focus to mental illness as the scapegoat, and heads back into the sand. As a Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse Practitioner, I feel compelled to express my concern and frustration about the ongoing redirection of the conversation and ultimate inaction.

First, a reality check. While the trauma of Maine will continue to haunt its citizens for years, the gun violence experienced is unparalleled elsewhere in the world. Developed allies like Australia, the UK, Canada, and Switzerland report comparable prevalence of mental illness. However, they have significantly lower rates of gun violence. Why? They have stricter gun laws.

So, why does it come back to mental illness? The myth of mental illness as a predisposition to violence reigns in the U.S., even though research has shown for decades that those with severe mental illnesses are more likely to be victims of violence than perpetrators of violent acts themselves. Undoubtedly, in very rare instances, serious mental diseases that are not well-managed can increase the risk of violent behavior. Let’s face it; if someone kills another, then there is arguably a de facto element of disconnect from morals, laws, or reality.

We can’t ignore that the Maine gunman struggled with paranoia and hallucinations. Here again, a spotlight on our military’s mental health, suicide, and gun violence remains insignificantly addressed. But pointing a finger at mental illness alone, thereby restricting background checks for firearms to those within this population, is shortsighted and potentially dangerous. Already, those with mental illnesses are inherently a vulnerable group, placed further at risk by ignorant stigmas and stereotypes.

Plus, focusing on keeping firearms out of the hands of the mentally ill is naive. Consider these logical points. Individuals may avoid mental health care in order to not be labeled. The Maine shooter purchased his guns prior to visiting a professional for mental healthcare. The restriction wouldn’t have worked. Patient privacy, provider-patient confidentiality ethics, and healthcare data security would be at risk. Issues likely to hold up new policies in the courts for years. Implementing the necessary database to track this information would be monumental, necessitate interstate cooperation and networks, and would be open to immense human error. Psychiatric diagnoses may change, fall into remission, and or be cured. And we haven’t even begun to crack the surface of arguments about whether there be distinctions between mental illnesses—insomnia vs. paranoia vs. grief. The point is that targeted background checks based on mental illness diagnosis will clearly not be a panacea, if even tenable.

We have another option. Let’s align our policies with public opinion. Americans, including gun owners, overwhelmingly support universal and stricter background checks for all. Background checks provide an increased sense of safety and security within communities. Political leaders should revisit motions for nationwide mandatory waiting periods between applying for and purchasing a firearm, required firearm safety classes before licensing, a ban on assault rifles and other firearms designed for military combat, and yellow/red flag laws that could apply to acute episodes of psychosis, mania, or other mental illnesses linked to impulsivity. These policies uniformly will lessen gun violence without simply blaming mental illness as the single causative factor.

How do we know? These measures already have been effective in other countries.

Beyond background checks, combating gun violence necessitates a thorough and multidimensional approach. It is critical to improve mental health services and make sure that everyone in America, especially veterans, has access to care. We can better address the nascent seeds of violence and promote a culture of support and resilience by strengthening community resources, improving crisis intervention services, and removing obstacles to mental health care, starting with reducing the stigma perpetuated by false claims of violent potential.

The killings in Maine are yet another reminder of the complexity and urgency with which the public health epidemic of gun violence in America must be addressed. Frankly, we are failing miserably. The people of America deserve better than the non-action rhetoric of “thoughts and prayers” and are smarter than to accept continued political deflection. We can pay tribute to the victims of gun violence by supporting comprehensive gun control, investing in mental health services, and creating a culture that values safety and well-being. The time for inaction has passed, and we are reminded too often that the cost of remaining passive is immeasurable.

Bucks County Breaks Ground at Mental Health Diversion Center Site

Panel Discussion on Transgender Issues And Detransitioning Set for March 18

Always a tomboy, Chloe Cole, now 18, began to think she might be a boy when she was about 12. The idea came mainly through social media. There she learned she could be transgender and received support for these ideas. So much so that she eventually told her parents and demanded to be put on hormone blockers and testosterone.

At 15, she had her breasts surgically removed. But a year after the operation, she realized she had made a horrible mistake and wanted to return to being female. The support she had gotten from her transgender “friends” vanished.

Sara Higdon was a 4-year-old boy when she started feeling that something wasn’t right and that she might be a girl. Higdon remained a male, grew up, served in the military, and married. After her divorce, she transitioned.

“I started taking hormones in 2018,” said Higdon, who had begun wearing women’s clothing. “I made friends in the creator space and started my own YouTube channel, just trying to make political content of different sorts. And then my niche was mostly talking about trans issues.”

Higdon strongly opposes children and teenagers transitioning and is with the organization Trans Against Groomers.

“It’s very much tied together because they want people to feel so comfortable in their own skin, so they’re pushing this queer theory on kids,” said Higdon. “This ideology in order for them to feel supported and have better emotional results.”

But isolation from the COVID shutdown caused “mental health issues,” said Higdon.

“When you’re talking to a 5-year-old about sex and gender and all this stuff, that’s a major red flag for me. And any time the school is keeping secrets from the parents, that’s another major red flag. And it actually ends up harming kids with gender dysphoria,” said Higdon.

Cole said doctors told her parents she would be at risk for suicide if they did not affirm her gender choice and allow her to transition. But after being a boy for a year, she “missed being a girl.”

During a psychology class in her junior year in high school, she read that breastfeeding helps mothers and infants bond.

“I felt like a monster,” Cole said. “I not only took something from myself but from my future children.”

And the more she learned about brain development, the more she realized she was too young to make such a life-altering decision. And she made it “under the guidance of medical professionals.”

She stopped taking testosterone and medication to block estrogen.

“It was all crap,” said Cole. “Just made up. I was lied to.”

She has also been diagnosed with being on the autism spectrum and noted that many children and teens with gender dysphoria have other conditions like depression, autism, attention deficit disorder, or they have suffered a sexual assault.

“The model right now is one size fits all,” said Cole. Cole is suing the doctors and hospital that treated her with hormones and removed her breasts when she was 15.

Cole and Higdon will join Elana Fishbein, Ph.D., founder of No Left Turn in Education, and forensic nurse Tami Harrlaub for a panel discussion, Innocence Under Seige, on March 18 in Malvern from 2 to 5 p.m.

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PA Moderates Toomey, Fitzpatrick in the Midst of Gun Control Deal-Making

Washington lawmakers are forging ahead toward possible gun violence legislation, and two Pennsylvania Republicans are at the center of the effort.

A group of bipartisan lawmakers led by U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey found common ground on gun control legislation that stands a chance of passing the Senate. Toomey (R-Pa.) told reporters 10 Republicans were “on board in principle” with a deal that could break through a GOP-led filibuster that stalled previous attempts.

“I do think it’s more likely than not that we will get something done in the Senate,” Toomey said last week.

Lawmakers involved in the negotiations said the measure provides “needed mental health resources, improves school safety and support for students, and helps ensure dangerous criminals and those who are adjudicated as mentally ill can’t purchase weapons.”

His comments came after the House passed a wide-ranging package of gun safety bills, called the Protecting Our Kids Act, in a 223-204 vote. It followed a tense hearing where victims of recent gun massacres across the U.S. urged lawmakers to take action.

The bills would raise the minimum age for purchasing semi-automatic rifles from 18 to 21, ban high-capacity magazines, require a registry for bump stocks, and tighten federal firearms regulations to apply to so-called “ghost guns,” which are manufactured without serial numbers by private citizens.

It would also create tax incentives for sales of safe storage devices and add criminal penalties for those who violate gun storage regulations at their residences.

Among the five Republicans voting for the package was Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Bucks). He said that while the legislation was “far from perfect,” it was a “necessary step” to put pressure on the Senate to adopt a bipartisan proposal in the wake of mass shootings in Uvalde, Texas, Buffalo, N.Y., and Tulsa, Okla.

Fitzpatrick said e supports Americans’ Second Amendment right to own guns but added there was “no higher responsibility” for lawmakers than protecting children from gun mayhem.

“Our policies should support responsible gun ownership. We must protect mentally healthy, law-abiding citizens’ right to protect and defend themselves, their families, their homes, and their communities, and we must also prevent mentally ill individuals and criminals from gaining access to firearms and causing harm to others. If we’re going to stop the violence plaguing our nation, we must all accept these basic premises,” he said.

The National Rifle Association’s Institute for Legislative Action said the House package threatened to “turn millions of law-abiding gun owners into felons.”

“This unconstitutional legislation would extinguish law-abiding adults’ Second Amendment rights and contends that these individuals are responsible enough to defend their country or vote in an election, but cannot be trusted to follow the law,” the group wrote on its website.

The Toomey-backed legislation, still being debated among the bipartisan group of senators, doesn’t go as far as the House package. But it would provide for an enhanced review process for buyers under age 21 and penalties for straw purchases, CNN reported.

The review process would include an “investigative period to review juvenile and mental health records, including checks with state databases and local law enforcement.”

The proposal calls for support for crisis intervention and funding for school safety resources, a key point of contention among Republicans who accused Democrats of seizing on tragedies to push forward more restrictive gun laws.

Meanwhile, Delaware Valley Democrats at the state level are pushing for further gun restrictions. Sate Sen. Steven Santarsiero (D-Bucks) proposed legislation that would ban military-style weapons in the Keystone State.

He told reporters at a news conference in Lower Makefield Township that the measure was modeled after a 2013 Connecticut law that banned high-capacity magazines and provided a voluntary buyback program for gun owners.

“Military-style weapons have no place in civilian society,” Santarsiero said. “Easy access to assault weapons is one of the greatest threats to the health and safety of Pennsylvanians.”

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