Why is Austin’s Chief of Police Pleading for Gun Control?

In early December, The Huffington Post brought Austin, Texas into the gun control discussion. Austin’s claim to fame? It is the only major US city to not have a mass shooting in the past 6 years. However, if you listen to the Police Chief Art Acevedo, you would think the city was under imminent threat!

Acevedo is a vocal advocate for gun control. Could it be that Austin police seek gun control because they are out of control themselves?

An altercation in February 2015, which was captured on cellphone by a passing citizen, shows a policeman throwing a man to the ground—apparently for getting to close to his horse. Another pair of videos that went viral in November 2015 send mixed messages as well. In one, the man claims he isn’t resisting arrest, though his actions suggest he is. In another, police were filmed as they threw several people who chose to jaywalk to the ground and handcuffed them.

Could it be the real reason many police departments want guns off the street is their fear that they might finally tangle with someone who is armed?

Will Gun Control Keep Any City Safer?

When you listen to Acevedo, you also get a mixed message. “We worry more about the next election and we worry more about donations from political interests than we do about good public and health policy,” he says. “How much blood is it going to take before we start doing something as a nation?” This is a man who “describes himself as a ‘center-right moderate’ who feels strongly about Second Amendment rights as well as the need for tighter gun control measures.”1

However, Acevedo also states that “his department’s success limiting gun violence was due to the work of its mental health unit, which partners with outside organizations to monitor and help individuals who may be a danger to themselves or others.”2

This highlights a far more important consideration than gun control—the lack of options for those who are struggling with different mental health issues. Guns do not create mental health problems. Thus possession of firearms should not be denied to a largely healthy population. When the guns are gone, it will be discovered that removing them from reasonable people will have consequences as dramatic as those seen during prohibition.

As Ken Burn’s series on PBS portrays, prohibition turned otherwise reasonable people into flagrant lawbreakers. In fact, the first gun control laws can be traced to this time. No longer could private citizens own Gatling guns. Did this make Chicago safer? No. The crime bosses just hid their illegal weapons as fervently as they hid their liquor.

No, gun control isn’t our real issue—much as some want it to be. The real issue is how we care for those who are struggling with mental illness.

As early as 1984—just three years after the push for psychiatric hospitals to change the way they did business, or close, came to a head —many were already seeing the 3 catastrophic repercussions of releasing the nation’s mentally ill into the community. However once the institutions had been closed and staff released, not one state had the resources to reinstitute the system. Cutting costs motivated the movement!

In 1984, The New York Times quoted Dr. Robert H. Felix, who had been director of the National Institute of Mental Health and a major figure in the movement to shift treatment to community centers. “Many of those patients who left the state hospitals never should have done so. We psychiatrists saw too much of the old snake pit, saw too many people who shouldn’t have been there, and we overreacted. The result is not what we intended, and perhaps we didn’t ask the questions that should have been asked when developing a new concept, but psychiatrists are human, too, and we tried our damnedest.”4

Medication Isn’t a Panacea.

The bottom line is this. The psychiatric community thought medication would do the job. They counted on tranquilizers to repair brains that weren’t functioning. They completely underestimated the ability of someone who is mentally ill to stay on medications by choice, when those meds make them feel like they are disconnected from life. Without the force imposed by institutionalization, few stayed ‘properly’ medicated.

Removing Guns Isn’t a Panacea Either.

Acevedo is vocal about his objections to Texas laws expanding concealed carry on college campuses. He believes that sexual assault victims are more likely to become murder victims as well if anyone can carry a concealed weapon. What about the likelihood that more sexual assault perpetrators might become victims of their own folly?

There may be merits to background checks. Yet, we could also see the same zealous approach to a person’s ‘history’ that created overzealous institutionalization of any individual who appeared to deviate from ‘normal’ before 1981. Could a person who has overcome mental health issues such as depression, social anxiety, OCD or panic/ anxiety disorder be labeled as someone who isn’t safe with a gun? Many ‘mentally ill’ individuals go on to lead well-adjusted, functional lives after working with a cognitive behavioral therapist.

We say, “No!” It’s time to stop arguing that gun control will make our cities safer.

We say, “Yes,” to Active Engagement.

Acevedo does have one thing right. He has focused on keeping Austin’s police force well trained to handle potential mass shooting events. He says, “More often than not in recent years, people aren’t interested in negotiating, people aren’t interested in holding hostages, people are only interested in causing as much death and injury as they can.”

Maybe Austin isn’t doing better than other cities, because, as Acevedo says, “This can happen anywhere, to any city. It’s happened to us here, but we’ve been fortunate … that we had resources that were just close enough to be able to get there quickly enough to put an end to the active shooter.” However, we believe being prepared is a wise strategy. That’s why we support the right of citizens to own guns.

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