After the Sandy Hook shootings one response of the NRA was a program to put more guns in schools. From a marketing and sales perspective that was a brilliant move. Almost worthy of the cigarette manufacturers, “New cancer cure might surprise you. It’s tobacco!

Mental Health Clinic, Las Vegas

The current rhetorical tactic is to shift the conversation to the mental health of the shooters. However, the weapons manufacturers do not want to have a program that will find and help treat people with mental illnesses. Heck, they don’t even want to help make sure that people with a history of mental illnesses get into the state databases that feed the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS). These state programs still need help and many states aren’t complying fully.

So to people who say, “It’s not about the guns, it’s about the mentally ill.” I would ask, “So, what are you doing to help fund mental health programs? How supportive are you of expanded funding for mental health care?” and a simple one “What steps have you taken in your community or state to make sure info about people’s mental health problems go into the NICS?”

By asking these questions, instead of talking about guns, we can move to discussions about patient confidentiality, fears of people never getting off the list, who is considered mentally ill, not trusting the system with this information etc. etc. etc. These are important issues to address and I’ll like discuss them now, when everyone is saying, “We really need to do something about mental illness.”

How Can Companies Make Money On the Mentally Ill?

If the issue really is mental illness, what kind of new funding is directed to this issue? Who will get  money for more mental health programs? Why aren’t they going for it? Here is a suggestion: Let’s ask the medical insurance companies, Pharma and health care professional associations to unleash a few lobbyists looking for funding.

The health insurance companies can go to the gun makers and the weapons lobbyists first and ask for funding. As a PR move they might even throw in a few million. But it really is only the federal government that can move the needle.  But, as we know, nothing is done “for the public good” anymore unless someone is going to make money.  So let’s use that impulse.  We have the demand for more and better mental health care, this could be a profit center for some big hospital chain. They can bill the insurance companies or the federal government.  Or we can create thousands and thousands of fully-funded and staffed community mental health care centers.

So what kind of legislation is being created to address this issue and who is moving it forward? Who is supporting it? Who isn’t? Why not? These are a bunch of questions we can throw up to elected officials, lobbyists, health care professionals and people arguing on the internet.

What is great about this discussion is that the weapons lobbyists can find bedfellows in unusual places. There are people who really are concerned about confidentiality and fears of incorrect diagnoses of mental illness being used by the state to lock people up and take away their rights.  This is an excellent place for the weapons manufacturers and their lobbyists to see that their concerns are addressed.

Everyone agrees that privacy is important, peoples’ rights need to be respected, mental illness issues need to be addressed, and the overall level of public safety needs to be increased. And since the “tool” isn’t really the focus, we are addressing a common problem.

I’m quite sincere about getting greater resources to deal with mental illness. And I know that there are people in the gun-owning community who feel the same way. So let’s all get on board and push this.  Who’s with me?

Funding Peter to Help Paul

Here is something else I know.  Unless there is a direct correlation of money spent on dealing with mental illness to the sale of more guns, the weapons manufacturers and their lobbyists really won’t get on board.  From a messaging point of view the focus on the mental illness is nice, but it’s designed to direct attention away from guns.  Because frankly having untreated mentally ill people shooting people is good business in the long term.

From a purely sales point of view, stopping violently mentally ill people from shooting people could hurt sales.  This is because the current answer to gun violence is more guns.  Letting the violently mentally ill slip through the cracks and shoot people leads to fear.

Fear increases gun sales. You can build campaigns and talking points around that. “If that crazy person comes at you, you can shoot them!”

So Spocko, why let them focus on mental health when they really don’t care?  Why get them to publicly talk about mental illness being the problem when privately they act the opposite?

Because then you work the gap between what they publicly say they want and what they really want. You then use that public support to get ANOTHER group of people to do your bidding. If you have more mental illness, you can sell more mental illness services.  The health care industry payday is different from the weapons industry’s payday.

We really do need better mental health care, but as long as it is locked into a for profit system there is a desire to only spend money on mental health care at the high end where they get a greater Return On Investment.  A massive infusion of resources in community mental health care centers would be a good thing. And if you can get the weapon manufactures to back them as their way of avoiding talking about guns, great!

Privately the weapons sellers know that dealing with the violently mentally ill is just a smokescreen for them, but publicly they are now committed to supporting community mental health programs, maybe even programs that come from Big Government! They probably don’t think anything would be done, but they haven’t counted on the desire of the insurance companies and health care profession to get more money out of the federal government to cover services they don’t think are profitable.

Mental Health Clinic in Las Vegas, Nevada. Photo by Casey Bisson, Creative Commons license