Texas mass shootings: committee talks mental illness

Odessa mass shooting

A person attending a vigil for Leilah Hernandez, one of the victims of the shootings in Odessa and Midland, lights a candle.  Colin Murphey/San Angelo Standard-Times/USA TODAY NETWORK

By Alex Wukman

Mass shootings blamed on mental illness, despite evidence saying otherwise.

The Texas House Committee on Mass Violence Prevention and Community Safety held its third public hearing on Thursday.

The committee met in Odessa. Committee members came to the West Texas town because an Aug. 31 shooting claimed the lives of eight people.

Testimony lasted for five hours and was focused on improving communication between law enforcement agencies.

Committee members were interested in a breakdown of communication between DPS troopers and other local law enforcement agencies.

A state trooper pulled the shooter over and didn’t know Odessa PD was looking for him.

Odessa PD had a ‘be on the lookout for’ notice out because the shooter had threatened his workplace.

Odessa Police Chief Michael Gerke told the committee that Midland Police couldn’t have heard the alerts sent out about the gunman.

During the stop, a few select DPS troopers were able to tune in to the Odessa PD radio channel, Gerke said.

To address the communication breakdown, local law enforcement agencies have agreed to create a regional communications command center.

The communications center will allow dispatchers to relay urgent alerts to all area agencies. An additional suggestion would try to prevent mass shootings before they begin.

Mass shootings and mental illness are unrelated

Odessa’s Public Safety Director Michele Racca recommended a person’s mental health history be added to their driving record and/or license plate.

The idea being that a police officer would know if a person is “unstable” before approaching the driver.

“We see the red flags and give them that caution,” Racca said. “And then they’ll maybe wait for backup.”

Requiring mentally ill people have their diagnosis attached to a car registration would violate multiple state and federal laws.

It would also run afoul of case law and create innumerable civil rights violations. 

Discussing mental illness in relation to mass shootings is misleading, according to Dr. Natasha Bhuyan, a board-certified family physician in Phoenix. 

“My most common diagnoses … are anxiety and depression,” Bhuyan wrote. “Every day, I see patients who are struggling with sleep, appetite, concentration, and energy. These are hallmarks of mental health issues. Committing a mass shooting is not.” 

Blaming the mentally ill for mass shootings contradicts the evidence — according to a 2016 study by Dr. James L. Knoll IV and Dr. George D. Annas. 

“Mass shootings by people with serious mental illness represent less than 1% of all yearly gun-related homicides,” wrote Knoll and Annas.

Their research also found that people with serious mental illness only commit about 3 percent of violent crime. 

A law designed to reduce gun violence that is focused on a population that represents less than 3 percent of all gun violence will be “low yield, ineffective, and wasteful of scarce resources,” according to Knoll and Annas.

Knoll and Annas also found that mass shooters are “unlikely to have a history of involuntary psychiatric hospitalization.”

“Databases intended to restrict access to guns and established by gun laws that broadly target people with mental illness will not capture this group of individuals,” according to the study.

Committee members won’t propose solutions until 2021 and won’t meet before the end of this year. 

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