Friday, October 4, 2013


A few weeks ago, we broadcast a radio show* about gun law reform.  The topic of mental health screening came up – this was the same week that Aaron Alexis killed 12 people at the Washington Navy Yard.  Many of our panelists and callers raised questions about the inadequacy of mental health screening in the United States.  We agreed we would do a show on mental health in the near future.  That future has accelerated towards us.


Yesterday, a young lady was shot and killed by police outside the US Capitol building. Today we are hearing conflicting reports that she may have been suffering from post-partum depression following the birth of her daughter last year; and that she has suffered from severe mental health problems all her life. We may never know the truth. Miriam Carey, a 34 year old mother of one, was a dental hygienist who lived in Stamford, Connecticut – and a college graduate.


Just 20 days earlier, on September 13, Aaron Alexis, also 34, took the lives of 12 colleagues and injured eight more at the Washington Navy Yard.  A former full-time Navy reservist (an aviation electrician’s mate third class) with a concealed-carry permit in Texas, Alexis received an honorable discharge in January 2011.  He received the Global War on Terrorism Service Medal and the National Defense Service Award – minor awards, but awards nonetheless.

While appearing to function normally, Alexis was plagued by mental health and anger management issues.  Arrested several times, he apparently began suffering from paranoia, even calling police in Rhode Island when he felt threatened by microwaves emanating from the ceiling. He told police he was hearing voices. The police informed the Navy who took no action, resulting in a morning of carnage at the Navy Yard.


On December 14 2012, in Newtown, Connecticut, a troubled young man, 20 year old Adam Lanza, shot and killed his mother Nancy at their home before driving to Sandy Hook Elementary School.  There he shot and killed 20 children aged between six and seven years old, along with six adult staff members, firing 154 rounds with a rifle. Experts say he had to stop and reload the thirty-round magazine frequently. When he realized that police had entered the building and seen him, Lanza shot himself in the head with a Glock 10mm hand gun. 


In this country, there have been 8,957 deaths by gun since that dreadful day in December 2012 (statistics compiled by Slate ** ) and it is estimated that there have been 168 mass shootings in this country since 2006.  After all these shootings, the pattern seems set, with gun permits apparently being handed out like candy to the mentally impaired with little or no screening.

A public discussion ensued between the gun lobby, mainly represented by the powerful National Rifle Association (NRA) and the various gun control groups, chief among them the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence (CSGV) and now, Americans for Responsible Solutions (ARS).


Americans for Responsible Solutions was founded by former Rep. Gabby Giffords (D-Arizona) and her husband, Mark Kelly, a retired Navy Captain and NASA astronaut, as Giffords recovered from a gunshot to the head delivered by Jared Loughner on January 8, 2011.  Loughner, 23, shot and killed six people that day in Tucson Arizona, including US District Court Judge John Roll, and 9 year old Christina Taylor-Green, and injured 14 more. Giffords and Kelly pledged to support both the 2nd Amendment and safer communities by more encouraging elected officials to engage in a more direct communication with their electorate. 


Then, yesterday, Miriam Carey drove into Washington, DC in her black Infiniti and attempted to ram the White House gates.  In the ensuing melee and car chase, shots were fired by police at the apparently unarmed and troubled young mother.  In this hi-tech world of ours, several bystanders shot video footage of the entire confrontation. Piecing it all together, Carey approached the driveway leading to the White House at speed, trying to pass security at 15th and Pennsylvania.

When armed officers turned and drew their weapons, she spun the Infiniti around, running down a 23-year veteran Secret Service agent as she sped away.  Secret Service agents and Capitol police chased her to the Capitol at speeds of up to 80 miles per hour.  They opened fire on her at Garfield Circle.  There was a collision between the Infiniti and a Capitol Police cruiser at Constitution and Second, causing Carey to hit the barricades outside the Hart Building. An eye witness said the car was attempting to get away when an officer drew his weapon and fired into the car, fatally injuring the driver.

Why did she do it? The initial incident at the White House gate does not appear to have been an accident. Cathy Lanier, Metropolitan Police Chief, says she is confident it was not an accident.


A former employer, Dr. Brian Evans, told us that Carey suffered a head injury after falling down stairs just before discovering that she was pregnant. After working for him for two years, he fired her after Carey displayed anger management issues in the workplace. Family members are admitting that Carey suffered from emotional problems, and was then hit by post-partum depression following the birth of her daughter in August 2012.  


So here we get to the core of the mental illness spectrum. Anxiety, Depression, Post-partum, Paranoia, Bipolar – many labels, many tags. What are we as a society doing about any of it? There is an easy answer to that – we are doing nothing.  We tend to ignore the entire mental health issue as an embarrassment almost. It is viewed as something that should not be discussed in polite society, and something that should never be allowed out in the open. It is one of those touchy topics that we figuratively put in the closet under the stairs, while we lock the door and hope that nobody ever finds the key.


Several celebrities have “come out” as suffering from bipolar disorder, the most recent being actress Catherine Zeta-Jones, the beautiful wife of actor Michael Douglas.  Zeta-Jones has Bipolar II, a condition which is difficult to diagnose. Frequently mistaken for depression, it is difficult to know when you have the disorder. It is possible to function at a high level with BP-II, and of all those diagnosed with depression, between 40 and 50% turn out to have either BP-I or BP-II.  Other celebrities suffering from a bipolar disorder include actress Carrie Fisher, actor Mel Gibson and politician Jesse Jackson, Jr. 


With all these high profile people readily admitting to needing pharmaceutical treatment for mental illness, surely the time is right for the US Government to shine a light in that direction. In the area of gun law reform, mental instability leaps out at us, begging us to run deep background checks on anyone applying for a gun license. In the immediate aftermath of any public violent act, gun law reform comes to the fore and the 2nd Amendment debate heats up.  Then the talk turns to ammunition size and gun capacity, and before we know it, we’ve done nothing about anything, while another incident blows up to take over the headlines.

The time for studying and improving mental health provisions and screening is now. It’s here. Let’s deal with it.  


*CURRENT talk radio show on the RapidRadioNetwork