Every time I voice this opinion, I get fewer and fewer birthday and Christmas cards, but following the latest massacre – of small schoolchildren in Texas – on Tuesday, I’m going to say some of it again. The Buffalo shooting victims are not yet all buried, a 2-year-old was shot to death in Wells on Monday – in her father’s arms, he and her grandfather say – and this sad list is longer than anybody can readily recall.

Texas School Shooting List

Lillie Perez, 11, takes part in a “March for Our Lives” protest for gun-control legislation and school safety March 24, 2018, in Houston. It was one of many demonstrations held in conjunction with a Washington march spearheaded by teens from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., where over a dozen people were killed Feb. 14, 2018. David J. Phillip/Associated Press, File

Following each of these uniquely American tragedies, we shed some tears, wring our hands and lament that it has happened again. We blame the gunmakers and National Rifle Association, hire armed guards to patrol our school corridors, mount cameras on anything that doesn’t move quickly and, once again point out the obvious: The killer suffered from mental illness, was a male between 18 and 24 years of age and was known to the law enforcement community. And, by the time of the next slaughter, we’ve returned to work, mowed the lawn and are working hard to keep it out of our heads.

We even talk about passing laws to limit access to guns by people who are not stable enough to handle them safely and mandate background checks to try to identify who those folks are, and we often even write pieces of laws to do those things. But before they become laws, they become political footballs and are kicked out of bounds before the next killings remind us that we dropped the ball – again.

An oft-repeated quip about mental health is that the definition of insanity is “doing the same thing over and over, while expecting a different outcome.” And so it is with our fallback position on mass shootings: “The killer was mentally ill – we need to do something about that.” Then we don’t do anything other than the same old thing.  We continue to fund a community mental health system that is now mostly owned by hospitals and large community health care industries, having long ago abandoned their commitment to “community,” which includes schools and the criminal justice system.

Each killer was a student in the public school system, where behavior and social “fit” are constantly monitored. The majority of them are well known to parts of the criminal justice system, with the largest concentration of mentally ill men in the country, confined in our county jails – yet these institutions receive nearly none of the community behavioral health prevention and treatment funding. These jails are all underfunded, understaffed and unable to treat anybody.

Try to imagine a system in which students are constantly engaged with a teacher corps that has special training in the early identification of mental illness and that has the resources to provide individual treatment services for these kids and their families.

Further, imagine that law enforcement officers are provided the training needed to make them expert in the identification of mental illness and the skills needed to positively engage with mentally ill persons: a system in which cops never again complain that they’re not “social workers,” because, first of all, they are social workers. And they’re paid professional wages.

The courts, district attorneys, defense attorneys and victim-witness programs all have diagnostic and treatment funds available to help those in the criminal justice system access treatment services. These funds are managed by the criminal justice system. With county jail populations nationwide topping 75 percent with either a behavioral health or a substance use disorder diagnosis (48 percent meet the criteria for both), wouldn’t it make sense to place those treatment dollars into the jails, rather than into a community mental health system that just isn’t working to help stop these killings?

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