Debates should be focused on mental health, not just gun laws

The Daily News

For college students New Year’s Eve usually consists of looking toward the future, drinking and not really remembering the night’s events. But I remember New Year’s Eve two years ago when a friend and I ran into a big group of old high school friends.  

We were young, happy to ring in 2011 together and looking forward to our long lives ahead of us. Nothing could get us down that night; we had too much to live for.

I’ve thought about that night a lot, but now it has a whole new significance.

My childhood best friend sent me a message Friday afternoon saying that one of the girls we spent that amazing New Year’s Eve with was found by police in the middle of the road. She had been shot in the head. 

Thoughts of passing her in the hallway, seeing her at school events, graduation and counting down to 2011 together raced through my mind. 

I admit, I didn’t know her well, and I hate it when people make someone else’s tragedy about themselves. But those of you who are also from small towns will understand when I say that it doesn’t matter how well you know someone. Everyone is intertwined in small communities and we come together during moments of grief. 

The pain is there. The pain is real. 

The hot button topic lately has been gun control, and how could it not be at the forefront following shootings at a movie theater and another at an elementary school where 26 people, 20 of which were children, died?

It’s natural for a major news event, or several, to thrust certain issues into the spotlight. 

But whether the debate is about concealed weapons on campus, teachers carrying guns or banning military-style weapons, there is a bigger issue at hand. 

The United States lacks accessible mental health care. 

About 25 percent of adults in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

Half of all lifetime cases of mental illness begin by the age of 14 and three-quarters being by the age of 24, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness. Fewer than a third of adults and half of children with a diagnosable mental disorder receive mental health services in a given year.

People with mental health issues are often reluctant to seek help, don’t receive support from loved ones and insurers are often hesitant to pay for services. 

Don’t get me wrong — I’m not saying all people with mental illnesses turn to violence. Not by a long shot. But perfectly sane people don’t walk into a movie theater with a semi-automatic rifle or shoot a 23-year-old college student on a highway. 

Should there be stricter gun laws? Should there be a ban on semi-automatic weapons? Should concealed weapons be allowed on campus? 

I don’t know. 

What I do know is that countless people have lost their lives to people who for whatever reason weren’t able to receive mental health treatment, and that countless more will lose their lives if we don’t make a societal change. 

And I know that today I’ll attend a memorial service to say goodbye to a girl who lost her life too soon. 

Kelly Dickey is a senior journalism major and writes ‘Sarcasm & Smiles’ for the Daily News. Her views do not necessarily reflect the newspaper’s. You can email her at