In the wake of the Valentine's Day school shooting that left 17 students and teachers dead in Parkland, Florida, Americans nationwide are debating what measures would prevent similar mass murders in the future.
Conservatives say better mental health care is needed, while liberals point to tighter gun controls. Still others advocate bringing God back into the schools, doing away with violent video games and better parenting to curtail the problem.
Christian family therapist Dr. Linda Mintle tells CBN News she believes the answer is "all the above."
America's Broken Mental Health System
Dr. Mintle said the Parkland school shooter exhibited numerous signs over the years that he was mentally disturbed, pointing out that mental health professionals were even dispatched to his home. Nevertheless, no one was able to stop him from carrying out his murderous rampage. Mintle says faults within America's mental health system allow too many people like him to "fall through the cracks."
"It's true that you can have some symptoms and somebody can even be sent to the home to assess," she explained. "And if at that moment the person isn't suicidal, homicidal or psychotic, a lot of times the assessor will say, 'There's not an imminent danger. There's no reason I can temporarily detain this person in an emergency setting like into a hospital.'"
Despite this, Mintle says the mental health professionals who were called to the scene should have followed-up, and could have helped prevented the tragedy, but said even then, might have faced roadblocks within the mental health care system.
She says mental health care workers could "get him assessed, get him evaluated, determine what his needs are and then get him into the hospital." But she added, "We have a real problem with our mental health system in that we don't have enough psychiatric beds for the people who need it. So often people who need to be in the hospital are not put in the hospital, and we have a much more heavy medication approach to patients, where we put them on medications but never look at the root issues in their lives, what's creating these problems," she said.
Mintle says more funding is needed to provide ample psychiatric hospital space and insurance companies must do a better job covering psychiatric services. For instance, she said insurance companies are far more likely to cover medication costs for psychiatric illness than time-consuming therapy to work through the issues.
Better Threat Assessments Needed
Mintle says while many people suffer from mental illness, only a handful are violent. Therefore, she says a key to stopping future mass killings is trained professionals identifying which students are both mentally ill AND violent. She says authorities need to do a better job of recognizing which kids are likely to kill and stopping them in their tracks.
"What is the typical profile that we know is going to lead to violence?" she said. "This kid was somebody with the signs. He was somebody who posted often with guns, talked about being a school shooter, cruel to animals, exposed himself to a lot of violent media, he was externalizing blame."
Mintle said other red flags include violent artwork, poems and other writings about hurting people, talking or writing about taking revenge on people who hurt him.
Mintle says school officials in conjunction with law enforcement should improve their threat assessment skills and target students who exhibit risky behavior. "The schools could say, 'This is a person of high threat and we're going to get a team together and we're going to assess this person very carefully,'" she said.
Dr. Mintle says far-too-common violent video games that simulate mass murders can push mentally at-risk youths over the edge. She said research shows violent video games:
Desensitize youths to real violence,
Take away empathy for other people,
Can lead to violence
She said movies replete with murder contribute to the problem, as well, and recommends the entertainment industry take responsibility and make content changes to their movies and television programs.
"I get so angry that Hollywood is the first to talk about (outlawing) guns, but they don't police themselves in terms of violent entertainment," she said. "So this is the way we entertain children? We teach them to shoot and to kill, and to immerse themselves in violent media?"
"No one should be able to buy a gun before the age of 25," Mintle said, "because their brain isn't fully developed. They're impulsive, they don't have the control from the part of the brain that has to do with judgment."
And Mintle argues that certain weapons are only needed in war, so they shouldn't be allowed.
Mintle says in addition to fixing the mental health system, curbing violent media and adding some gun control, another contributing factor to mass shootings is the "lack of the sanctity of life," because America has "taken God out of public discourse."
"Our culture doesn't value life," she said. "It's no big deal to take a life whether it's in the womb or the elderly with physician-assisted suicide."
She said the problem begins when our children are small. "Because of the gross misinterpretation of 'separation of church and state' what we've effectively done is taken God out of schools in any way, shape or form."