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Today's kids learn how to respond to active shooter

The most recent gun violence in a Parkland, Florida, high school has brought a lot of outcry and opinions on what is the cause of these continued tragic acts of violence. Some say it is about mental illness; others say it is about guns.

In the United States we tend to want to simplify things — to fit things into a 10-second sound byte. Well, this issue is not simple; it is complex and it is indicative of a country that is in crisis.

There is no question that we have a gun problem. When vulnerable kids and adults can easily access high-powered automatic weapons, we must in all honesty say that we have a serious problem. When suicide is on the rise, and when we live in a state where we have the second-highest suicide rate in the country, where most of those suicides are completed with guns, we have to admit we have a serious gun problem.

At the same time, we have to look at the deeper issues that cause someone to act out of violence and despair. One in five Americans is believed to have a mental illness. And that's simply diagnosed mental illness such as depression, bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, etc. And then we have a growing number of people in our culture who feel hopeless, powerless, filled with rage; who feel hateful, invisible; people who have been abused, bullied, neglected — all signs of a culture whose mental health is shaky, and all indicators of risk for self harm and harm to others.

We have numbers of people in our community who are in despair and who are feeling desperate. And we cannot keep ignoring these pressing issues. As a community and as a people, we need to start addressing the root causes of violence and despair: the inequity, the lack of opportunity for so many of our citizens, the lack of hope and meaning that so many people feel, the isolation and alienation, the lack of parenting supports, the childhood and adult abuse that so many of our community members suffer, and the lack of resources for people who need help.

And we need to demand finding and programs to address these very important issues so that people can get the help they need.

So, please contact your legislators today and demand that they sponsor and support legislation to reduce access to guns and that they prioritize funding for human services for our most vulnerable populations. Otherwise, we can rest assured that there will be more senseless killings, more loss of our community members, more despair.

Sue Silverberg is a licensed mental health counselor in Missoula. 

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