Op-Ed: The intersection of mental illness and gun violence must be addressed

WASHINGTON (JTA) — Twenty-six lives were lost in Newtown in a sliver of time, and another community was shattered by violence. These lives of beautiful potential lie like shards of glass on the floor of our national conscience.

While we grieve as a nation, it is imperative that we engage in a national discourse about gun control and the need for improved access to mental health services.

Gun violence and mental illness intertwine in ways that are dangerous and can be deadly.

Few understand that as well as the families, friends and advocates of domestic violence victims, with whom Jewish Women’s International has been working for years.

The devastation in Connecticut is not an isolated incident. We see the intersection between domestic violence and gun violence all too often. Every day, three women are murdered by their intimate partners, and guns are the murder weapon in the majority of cases. In 2010 alone, more than 300 women were shot and killed either by their husband or intimate acquaintance during the course of an argument. An abuser’s access to firearms drastically increases the likelihood of homicide.

President Obama’s speech about the massacre in Newtown amounts to nothing less than a clarion call to action. We must seize this opportunity to come together as citizens and as a nation to enact meaningful legislation that will outlaw assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, will keep guns out of the hands of those who will use them to commit crimes, and will strengthen and expand background checks for purchasers. This is not a radical ideology but a commonsense practicality for a country that has sacrificed too many of our loved ones to gun violence.

Woven into this call to action is an urgent appeal to address the intersection between mental illness and gun violence. We must support efforts to give families the tools to treat loved ones with a proclivity toward violence. We must also provide expanded resources for mental health professionals and, most importantly, ensure that appropriate mental health policies are in place and appropriately funded.

In the past few years, we have had many opportunities to come together as a nation. But this time is different. This time, we as citizens must lead — using the power of our voices and the strength of our numbers to ensure that legislation is enacted early in the 113th Congress.

Left to its own devices and without our active engagement, there is a strong likelihood that the legislative process will break down once again. Every member of Congress who believes that now is the time to pass life-saving legislation needs our support and our commitment. We must be committed to working alongside Congress and the administration to enact sensible but effective gun control legislation.

(Lori Weinstein is the executive director of Jewish Women’s International.)

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