A series of debates are raging over what steps need to be taken to curb the threat of mass killings in the wake of the shootings in Newtown, Connecticut. One debate centers on how to improve the mental health system to offer early warnings of potential crimes. YNN's Bill Carey says one leading expert in Central New York thinks much of that debate is a waste of time.
UNITED STATES -- Nearly four years ago, a middle-aged man suffering mental delusions walked into the American Civic Association in Binghamton and opened fire. Jiverly Wong killed 13 people before taking his own life. There was no tip from those who knew Wong to allow authorities to head off the deadly attack.
Dr. James Knoll, head of Forensic Psychiatry at Upstate Medical University, helped to analyze the Binghamton case. Like it or not, he says, inside information on a potential gunman remains the only effective way of avoiding mass killings.
“People talk a lot about the, quote-unquote, mental health system. But I don't think a lot of people understand that there's not really a solid, tightly knit mental health system in place. It's a loosely organized, fragmented system in every community and all across the country,” said Dr. James Knoll, a forensic psychiatrist.
And it's a system with less and less ability to deal with potential threats as fewer and fewer patients are treated in mental health institutions.
Reform movements in the 60s and 70s led to widespread deinstitutionalization, and a Supreme Court ruling in 1975 severely limited when courts could order someone committed to a mental facility.
Community services that were to pick up the slack never materialized. That has meant more and more persons with mental disabilities and illness on our streets.
Critics of new gun legislation claim that is the true reason for events like Binghamton or Newtown. Knoll says those critics are wrong.
“The fact of the matter is that these are very, very rare events. Extremely rare. Can't be predicted. And the vast, vast majority of persons with mental illness are not violent at all. In fact they're more likely to be victims of violence than to be violent,” said Dr. Knoll.
The psychiatrist says improving mental health services and reasonable gun control laws are a legitimate goal. They may not prevent a mass killing but, in the long run, they could begin to chip away at an even more deadly problem -- the ongoing violence on the streets of America's cities.
Watch the full interview with Dr. James Knoll:
YNN CNY: Curbing mass killings
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