This article appears in today’s issue of Florida Today serving the Brevard County region.

In my early days as a young detective, circa 1963-66, part of my job was to enforce pick-up orders of the court and bring people to mental health facilities for observation and if necessary, prolonged institutional incarceration. State law at that time allowed for a close family member or any three citizens to sign affidavits attesting to unstable mental problems, authorizing deputies to bring a subject in for evaluation. They were examined by mental health professionals who later made recommendations to the court. Most were released.

     Serious schizophrenics and/or psychopaths were involuntarily hospitalized by court order for unspecified periods of time. Some of those may have committed serious crimes had the law not existed.

     If such laws existed today in all states, we probably would not have had obvious psychopaths like Jared Loughner (Arizona) and James Holmes (Colorado) roaming free with guns in hand to slaughter masses of innocent people for no reason. They would have been isolated long before reaching that point. These young men had relatives who saw the growing unstableness but were powerless to do anything.

     In 1975, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that involuntary hospitalization and/or treatment violates an individual’s civil rights. This ruling forced individual states to change their statutes. Moving psychiatric patients from hospital settings to less restrictive environments was a shift known as “deinstitutionalization.” As a result, the system had to rely on two methods for dealing with the mentally ill; Drugs and jails.

      In other words, wait until someone commits an offense, i.e. murder, assault, etc., before the system can deal with such people. By then, it’s too late. Victims are dead.    

     Relying on medication for a solution to control the mentally ill is like relying on a recovering alcoholic to attend Alcoholic Anonymous on his own. Most will, some don’t. It’s all voluntary.

     Thus, we have the dilemma in today’s world with rapidly expanding populations and dwindling measures for effectively handling problems of mental illness.

     Little is heard about all this. Instead, like sheep following the political shepherd, our attention is directed toward guns, as though that is the end-all solution. Our minds are manipulated by government leaders and sensationalist media to have us believe it’s all about guns, while the true causes are buried in the fine print.

     If we compare what the print and broadcast media is giving the causes of mass shooting, by word count alone, it would be 100 to 1, guns over mental health. Just read any paper any day, listen to any news broadcast or review the agenda of lawmakers. No one is doing anything about improving the system and laws for mental illness.

     While I would agree that some improvements are needed in gun accountability legislation, not one word of the current proposals currently put forth in congress and by the White House, would have made one ounce of difference in the mass shootings of the last few years.

     But if we were able to turn back the clock to 1966, and give authorities and courts greater latitude in dealing with psychopaths, a lot of innocent victims would be alive today.

     It’s a no-brainer.

     Then again, who’s using brains?

Click here: Guest column: Addressing mental illness | FLORIDA TODAY