The school shooting in Florida, guns, and mental illness were among the topics the nation's governors, including Montana Governor Steve Bullock, discussed at the White House this week with President Donald Trump.
Bullock says there are no simple answers to what is becoming a public health crisis with the symbol of a flag at half staff.
“I’ve been governor for 5 years and been asked by two president to lower the flags 43 times. Twelve of them have been for mass shootings in our country. Dang near 30% of them,” he says.
Bullock remembers being rocked by the request following the mass shooting in Las Vegas where 58 people were killed and hundreds were injured. It was largest mass shooting so far in the U.S.
“I’m sitting around in a meeting and I’m saying, ‘I don’t even know what to write in this proclamation,’” he says “And my co-worker, my staff who works on proclamations says, ‘Oh, we’ve now developed a template for mass shootings.’”
Although his office does individualize each proclamation, he says.
National Governor’s Association held its annual meeting in Washington, D.C. The gathering took place about a week and a half after the school shooting in Parkland, Florida that left 17 people dead.
“I’m hopeful, now at a time where it’s going to be more than, ‘There goes another one. Let’s move on to the next issue. Let’s say our thoughts and prayers and move on,’” he says. “I’m hopeful that this might be the time to spark, both at the federal level and at the state level, ‘No. We’re not going to solve it. Let’s talk about concrete steps we can take to fundamentally address it.’”
The former Montana Attorney General says while there is no simple answer that doesn’t mean policy leaders should throw up their hands and not do anything.
Some politicians are pointing their fingers at those with a mental illness and the need to keep firearms out of their hands.
That blanket statement is unfair, says Dr. Eric Arzubi, a child and adolescent psychiatrist and head of the Psychiatry Department at Billings Clinic.
He had a role in the aftermath of the school shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in 2012 that left 28 people dead, including 20 children.
“Sadly I was within ½ hour of Newtown shootings occurred. I was in New Haven at the time and along with other colleagues and trainees at the time went and spent some time there to support families and kids,” says Dr. Arzubi. “Sadly I know too much about it.”
He says people with mental illness are more likely to be the victim of violence rather than the perpetrator. He says it’s really unfair to look at mass shootings and generalize that it’s about mental illness.
“Is violence sometimes co-morbid with mental illness? Absolutely. It can happen,” says Dr. Arzubi. “But again, statistically folks with mental illness are at higher risk of being victims of violence rather than perpetrators of violence.”
Dr. Arzubi and Bullock appeared at Stillwater Billings Clinic Wednesday afternoon to announce grants to health care and community providers and to schools for suicide prevention programs.
When asked about guns and suicide, Dr. Arzubi says it’s hard to generalize again because every individual and situation is different.
“And as much as people don’t want to talk about it. Big picture is if I have 100 people with depression and no access to guns and 100 people with depression and access to guns there’s going to be more suicide in the group that has guns – period - because you have access,” he says. “A death by gun, it can be impulsive. It can be quick and it works. That’s the problem and that’s why it has stirred up a debate about guns.”