Vail Daily editorial: Congressman’s shooting raises difficult questions

By now, anyone interested in the topic has seen, heard and read plenty of news and opinion about Wednesday’s shooting of U.S. House Majority Whip Steve Scalise and four other people by a gunman who was then fatally shot by police.

As this is written, the news and opinion are falling into depressingly predictable patterns. Since the gunman — who won’t get the pleasure here of posthumous glory through identification — was named, those interested have already learned about his politics, previous arrests and so on.

Political opinions will run along a similar, predictable track, with plenty of blame and issue rehashing reflective of our nation’s polarized politics.

But all of that information and noise will only serve to obscure the real point: Only someone who’s mentally ill shoots up a baseball practice for politicians.

Mental illness is one of the hardest issues our country faces. It’s damnably difficult to identify the mentally ill in our midst, and it can be even harder to try to help those people. That reticence leaves far too many people free to harm themselves or others.

The fact of the matter is that involuntarily confining someone who’s mentally ill in this country is difficult to the point of near-impossibility.

It’s difficult for a host of very good reasons, not least of which is the prospect of trampling on anyone’s constitutional rights. Involuntary confinement should be difficult. And totalitarian regimes have, and still do, use “mental illness” as a pretext for jailing dissidents.

Another difficulty is the lack of treatment facilities. That’s a nationwide problem, but it’s particularly acute in rural areas. Far too many people are picked up by police, who have, at best, limited options for in-patient treatment. That means the mentally ill often end up in jail cells, a terrible option for both police and individuals.

Answers to these two problems — and there are many others — can’t be put into soundbites or tweets. Answers require deep deliberation — something our political system is pretty awful at right now — and a willingness to spend taxpayer money.

The good news is that many states have nonprofit groups working on more effective, and more humane, treatment of the mentally ill.

In Colorado, Andrew Romanoff, a former Speaker of the House in the Colorado Legislature, is now the director of Mental Health Colorado. This spring the group toured the state, seeking personal stories as well as ideas from anyone willing to offer them.

Mental Health Colorado is engaged in good work, and their success is success for us all. The group would welcome your support and input.

No society will ever be able to identify and find help for people who create mental landscapes that encourage violence. But we need to do better, and as quickly as possible.

The Vail Daily Editorial Board is Publisher Mark Wurzer, Editor Krista Driscoll and Business Editor Scott Miller.

This article originally appeared in the Vail Daily.