(WASHINGTON) — The death of the man dubbed “America’s deadliest sniper,” an ex-member of SEAL Team 3 with more than 150 confirmed kills who was killed Saturday in Texas, allegedly by a war vet he was trying to help, is reinvigorating the national conversation on gun control.
President Obama is scheduled to step off his plane in Minneapolis on Monday to continue a Democratic-backed push for stronger gun control. But as he enters the City of Lakes to meet with local law enforcement, he will be coming off less than 48 hours since the latest in a string of high-profile violent crimes that have plagued the last week.
Audiences knew decorated veteran Chris Kyle from the NBC reality show Stars and Stripes, and his New York Times bestselling autobiography American Sniper, but his service didn’t stop with retirement: Kyle volunteered his time helping veterans cope with post traumatic stress disorder, reintroducing them to firearms.
Now, he may have been killed by one of those troubled vets he was trying to help. Authorities have arrested 25-year-old Eddie Ray Routh, a former Marine who police say may have been suffering from “some type of mental illness” when he allegedly killed Kyle and the SEAL’s neighbor at gun range in Texas. The motive is still unclear.
The incident speaks to a larger issue of mental health in America as the national gun debate continues. As Obama and gun-control advocates continue to spar with opponents who say any further restrictions on the weapons would be an infringement of their Second Amendment rights, strengthening mental health care seems to be one aspect of the debate that both sides agree on.
For veterans coming back from wars in Iraq and Afghanistan in particular, care can be a slow process. The Department of Veterans Affairs has increased its staff to attempt to stay ahead of the influx, but according to an inspector general report released last year, roughly half of new mental health patients had to wait for about 50 days before their first evaluation. A separate VA study released last Friday found an average 22 former service members commit suicide each day.
And the number of veterans receiving mental health treatment from the VA is steadily rising. The last year saw more than 1.3 million soldiers enter the system, up from 927,000 in 2006.
Mental health screens in gun sales have also been driven into the debate. While lawmakers bring forward national proposals to make more robust data systems for law enforcement to use in background checks, individual states including Maryland and New York have introduced legislation — expected to pass — that would do the same at the local level. The bills in the two states, both of which are led by Democratic governors, may offer a window into proposals to come at the federal level.
New York’s proposed legislation, spearheaded by White House ally Gov. Andrew Cuomo, would empower judges to require that people who are determined to be a threat to others must get outpatient care. The plan also requires that when a mental health professional determines a gun owner is likely to hurt himself or others, the risk must be reported and the gun removed by law enforcement.
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