Bay Ridge leaders look at mental health-gun connection in wake of Sandy Hook

December 18, 2012 By Paula Katinas Brooklyn Daily Eagle
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The topic of conversation at the monthly meeting of Community Board 10 Monday night was probably echoed in town halls, around kitchen tables, and in offices all across the country as the nation tries to come to grips with the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre.

Everyone at the meeting wondered aloud how something so shocking could have happened, how a lone gunman could have shot 20 innocent first graders to death, along with six adults.

Ideas were also exchanged at the community board meeting on how to prevent something similar from happening in the future.

Councilman Vincent Gentile (D-Bay Ridge-Dyker Heights-Bensonhurst) called on the federal government to re-institute a ban on assault weapons. The ban, which was instituted in 1994, expired in 2004 leading to a run on assault weapons by eager buyers in some parts of the country. Gentile also said anyone buying a gun should be required to undergo a thorough background check.

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“Evil is always right there with us. Edmund Burke said, ‘All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good people to do nothing,’” Gentile said, quoting the 18th Century Irish statesman.

Joanne Seminara, chairman of the community board, said the nation needs to develop better responses to mental health problems in individuals. In the aftermath of the Sandy Hook killings, much attention has been focused on gunman Adam Lanza’s mental state, reported, and experts are debating what role it might have played in the tragedy.

There needs to be a way to reach a mentally ill person before that individual turns to violence, Seminara said. People with mental health issues often feel as if they have no place to turn, Seminara said. “I was thinking about how few resources there are,” she said, addressing the board during her chairman’s report at the start of the Dec. 17 meeting. Society should “take away the stigma” associated with mental illness so that people aren’t ashamed to seek help, she said.

“People feel so isolated,” she said. “We live in dangerous times with lots of stress. We need those resources,” Seminara said.

Seminara called the Dec. 14 slayings of 26 victims in the Newtown, Connecticut school “an unbelievable tragedy” that has “shifted our psyche” as a nation.

The statistics involving gun violence in the U.S. are staggering, according to Seminara. There are 30,000 gun-related deaths a year. Each year, 100,000 people in this country are shot, she said.

The time to talk about gun control is now, Gentile told the community board. He advocated bringing back the ban on assault weapons to prevent those weapons from getting into the wrong hands, he said. The councilman also spoke about the issue of gun violence during a press conference on the steps of City Hall on Tuesday, the day after the board meeting.

In addition to the assault weapons ban, there should be a law “requiring background checks on all weapons sales, no matter how the sale happened,” Gentile said. In many states, gun buyers who purchase weapons at gun shows are exempt from having to undergo background checks.

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