'We have a problem': Uvalde mass shooting spurs new debate over guns and mental illness

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- In another traumatic week for America the nation again grapples with the question, what do we do? Is it a mental health problem? Is the answer tougher gun laws? One local expert told ABC 11, we're not having the right conversation.

The country is desperate for answers about mass gun violence before the next Uvalde. In Texas, leaders insist guns were not the problem.

"We have a problem with mental health illness in this community," Texas Governor Greg Abbott said.

"The proposals from Democrats and the media inevitably when some violent psychopath murders people... would (not) have stopped this," Texas Republican Ted Cruz said to a reporter.

Duke psychiatry professor and social scientist Dr. Jeffrey Swanson believes the current conversation is doing a disservice to mental health awareness in America

"If you learned everything you knew about mental illness by watching television in this country and reading a newspaper, you'd think that everybody with serious mental illnesses was some kind of homicidal monster. And it's just not true," said Swanson, a faculty affiliate of the Wilson Center for Science and Justice at Duke Law School, and the Center for Firearms Law at Duke Law School.

"I personally think that's a big dodge to not talk about guns, because if you study this, as I have, you know that the vast majority of people with serious mental illness are not violent and are not going to be violent," Swanson added

Thursday in Raleigh, Durham State Representative Marcia Morey lamented the ten gun safety bills she's filed over the past four years that have been dead on arrival on Jones Street. The Democrat, again, urging the Legislature to take up her proposal for statewide red flag laws.

"We can get judges to take away their guns temporarily if they're in danger of suicide or threats to others," Morey told a supportive crowd gathered on Bicentennial Mall.

Dr. Swanson supports red flag laws but warns it's not a panacea.

"It's one piece in the puzzle of gun violence prevention in our country," Swanson said. "What people can do is they can take this moment of sadness and outrage and they can do what so many survivors of gun violence have done. They can channel it into advocacy."

19 states and the District of Columbia have enacted red flag laws. And Swanson says for every 10 to 20 guns removed by police, one suicide is prevented (Data from Indiana and Connecticut). It's harder to show the impact on preventing mass shootings because they're so rare.
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