Attacks show need to address mental illness

While President Barack Obama and most members of Congress have focused on gun control since the school massacre in Newtown, Conn., not much has been said about getting to the root causes of such horror – insanity and the evil that sometimes drives it.

On April 15, Americans were reminded forcefully of the need to refocus the national debate. Bombs were exploded during the Boston Marathon, killing three people and wounding more than 170 others. Police said two young men, ethnic Chechnyans from Russia, committed the horrific act. Both had lived in the United States for nearly a decade.

Last Thursday, before that was known, Rep. David McKinley, R-W.Va., and Rep. Marcy Kaptur, D-Ohio, introduced an important – nay, a critical – bill in the House of Representatives.

McKinley and Kaptur are calling for a comprehensive study of mental health care in the United States.

“With the recent violent acts perpetrated by individuals suffering from mental illness, it is becoming ever more apparent that Americans struggling with mental illness are falling through the cracks,” McKinley said.

A clear link exists between mental illness and many mass murders. Adam Lanza, the young man who massacred children and educators in Newtown, was known to have had mental health problems.

But what of the Boston murderers?

Something instilled a viciousness beyond most of our imaginations in them. One of the killers was videotaped placing a bomb beside the 8-year-old child who was one of three people killed in the blasts.

It may be the killers, in their own minds, thought their act was justified for religious and/or political reasons.

But most acts of terrorism are not committed by leaders, but instead by followers. What is it about some people that makes them engage in brutality at the behest, either overtly or perhaps only imagined, of others?

This is not a philosophical question. Again, anyone capable of doing what the Boston bombers did is mentally ill, by the yardstick nearly all of us employ.

So McKinley and Kaptur are right: We Americans need to take a hard, impartial and comprehensive look at mental illness, including how we identify it and how we treat it. Answers we may be able to find there will save more lives than new controls on firearms.

The House and Senate should approve the McKinley-Kaptur bill immediately.