Could mental health treatment prevent mass shootings?

Dr. Theresa Berger and other health care leaders scoffed at President Donald Trump’s assertion Monday that violent video games motivate mass murderers — a widely-debunked theory which nonetheless survives among conservatives as one solution to stopping gun violence.

“We must stop the glorification of violence in our society,” Trump said. “This includes the gruesome and grisly video games that are now commonplace.”

“I have two sons. They played video games throughout their entire childhood. They did not have any inclination to shoot up anybody, to go to a school, to hurt anybody. It’s a video game,” said Berger. “Reality is, people are utilizing these weapons and killing innocent people.”

“I don’t believe that video games are the solution. I think there are so many other things that we could be doing,” said Patricia DeShields, executive director of Project HOPE.

Community health professionals gathered in Camden to kick off National Health Center Week with a street fair highlighting services provided by New Jersey’s 24 federally qualified health centers that treat more than a half-million patients annually. These folks see gun violence as a public health epidemic, but the president didn’t call for gun control Monday. He did ask for bipartisan cooperation to red-flag people with mental illness.

“We must reform our mental health laws to better identify mentally disturbed individuals who may commit acts of violence and make sure those people not only get treatment, but when necessary, involuntary confinement. Mental illness and hatred pulls the trigger, not the gun,” said Trump.

Caregivers explained timely mental health treatment isn’t easy to access. A 2016 survey showed new patients could wait more than two months for first appointments with a New Jersey psychiatrist.

“You need to be able to walk into your physician’s office and have the opportunity to say, ‘You know what? Do you have a mental health care provider here because I’m depressed,'” DeSheilds said. “And you shouldn’t have to wait for a referral, you shouldn’t have to wait for three months, at best, to get a mental health appointment for care.”

“Surely mental health is an issue, but if the person who is mentally ill doesn’t have a gun in their hand they can’t kill anybody,” said Sen. Bob Menendez.

Critics like Menendez claim Trump’s recommendations fall short of what’s required, particularly after the president in 2017 revoked an Obama-era rule that would have placed more mentally unstable people on the national background check database. Menendez implored the president to support bans on assault weapons and high capacity magazines and the truly universal background check bill that passed the House.

“That can ensure by a universal background check that someone with a mental illness doesn’t get access to a gun,” said Menendez. “We need a citizen uprising at the end of the day. When people speak out and say, ‘I’ve had enough, and I’m going to judge my elected representative in Washington by how they act on these issues,’ then members will get the message.”

Menendez said he’s eager to return to Washington to work on real solutions to gun violence and that he hopes Majority Leader Mitch McConnell calls an emergency Senate session.