While last week's massacre in Colorado has stirred a national debate about gun
control, local law enforcement officials say the horrific tragedy highlights
the need for mental health awareness.
James E. Holmes, who shot 12 people to death and wounded another 58 in an Aurora, Colo., movie theater where patrons had flocked to view the opening of the latest Batman movie, "The Dark Knight Rises," bought his guns and ammunition legally, according to The Associated Press.
Many suspect that Holmes, who made his initial court appearance Wednesday, is mentally ill.
"You take a look at what generated a case like this, and many times mental illness overrides the weapon," Eau Claire County Sheriff Ron Cramer said. "The mental health of this individual by all accounts deteriorated to a point where people were afraid of him."
Speaking up about mental health concerns is often difficult, Cramer said, but family members and friends need to voice those concerns to health officials or law enforcement to prevent violent outbursts.
Echoing Cramer's sentiment, Eau Claire police Chief Jerry Matysik said the primary problem behind last week's massacre likely is mental illness.
The incident serves as a wake-up call that families, communities, health officials and law enforcement must do a better job of communicating with one another regarding mental illness, Matysik said, noting most people with mental illness aren't violent.
"One of the problems with the whole talk about mental illness is it's sort of taboo," he said. "As a society we need to reduce the stigma around mental illness."
Greg Habben, who works in the Eau Claire National Alliance on Mental Illness office, said mental illness cases are especially difficult for families to deal with, especially when the ill family member is in denial about the illness. Mental health resources are available, he said, but he wishes there were more.
Because Holmes was able to buy his weapons and ammunition legally, many gun-control advocates, such as New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, are calling for more stringent gun-regulation legislation.
Gun-rights advocates argue more regulations would violate Second Amendment rights and not necessarily prevent someone such as Holmes from harming a large group of people.
"Tragedies like the shooting in Aurora, Colo., make us all want to try to do something to prevent them from ever occurring again," U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., said. "I don't see how you can stop evil and demented individuals from committing heinous acts."
On Sunday, Johnson told Fox News he believes owning a high-capacity ammunition clip, such as the one Holmes used, is a constitutional right.
Local gun shop manager David Madis, who runs Greater Midwest Mercantile on South Barstow Street in downtown Eau Claire, said guns get the bad rap for people's bad choices. State and national gun laws are stringent enough, he said, noting regulations require gun shops to conduct background checks and apply 48-hour waiting periods.
In Wisconsin, everyone except felons, people with documented mental illnesses and people with abuse or harassment injunctions against them are allowed to own guns.
"You can't really judge if someone is going to crack," Madis said. "People always hear the bad stuff on the news, but they don't understand how regulated (the gun industry) is."
State Rep. Chris Danou, D-Trempealeau, a former police officer, said communities need to have a frank discussion about gun violence. But he doesn't believe serious debate about gun violence among politicians will occur anytime soon because of powerful gun lobbying groups, especially the National Rifle Association.
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