Mental health system lacking

Few weeks go by without some new proposal for additional restrictions on gun ownership by Americans. A constant debate rages – and that is probably the right word – over the issue.

Meanwhile, very little is said about the cause of many crimes described as “gun violence.” Firearms really don’t kill people. Often, however, mentally ill people do.

Here in the Ohio Valley, we were reminded of that about a month ago, when a former police officer, Thomas Piccard, fired shots at the Federal Building in Wheeling. He died when confronted by some of the very same officers with whom he once served.

Clearly, Piccard, who resided in Bridgeport at the time, was mentally unbalanced when he began his rampage.

Another needless tragedy, this one in July, has prompted Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine to call for a reexamination of that state’s laws regarding the mentally ill.

On July 30, Paul E. Schenck, 42, was killed in a three-hour gun battle with police in Yellow Springs, Ohio. DeWine is very familiar with the community, in which he grew up.

This week DeWine discussed results of an investigation into Schenck’s death. “It was so obviously a mental health failure,” the attorney general told reporters, adding, “He had mental health problems, he was drinking and he had an arsenal of guns and ammunition. He was a time bomb waiting to go off.”

DeWine noted Schenck never received the mental health treatment that might have prevented the violence in which he died.

That prompted DeWine to urge a “comprehensive, independent study of Ohio’s mental health system to see what is working, what isn’t working and how can we do better.”

He is absolutely right.

Schenck’s death might have been prevented. So might Piccard’s, through better methods of detecting and treating those whose illnesses could spur them to violence.

Such an examination of mental health treatment in Ohio – and in all other states – ought to be undertaken. If we’re willing to talk about controlling guns, why not discuss controlling those who pull the trigger?

Legislators in Ohio and West Virginia should get the ball rolling and commission studies such as DeWine recommends.