On Monday, volunteer firefighters in Webster, N.Y., were dispatched to a house fire - just as countless firefighters in Chautauqua and Cattaraugus counties are every day.
When they arrived, a man staked out behind a tree started shooting with a Bushmaster rifle, killing two firefighters and wounding two more.
Coming less than two weeks after the school shooting in Newtown, Conn., the Webster shooting is just the latest in a long line of incidents that shine a spotlight on the availability of guns, especially automatic weapons. Gary Spengler, the Webster shooter, is a convicted felon who couldn't legally buy guns. Somehow a Bushmaster rifle and two other guns found their way into Spengler's hands. It is only more proof the United States has a serious problem enforcing its existing gun laws and a strong argument against writing new gun restrictions into law.
The ongoing rhetoric about gun control is a knee jerk reaction to tragedy. The best reaction is a healthy debate about mental health - an area in which state Sen. Catharine Young, R-C-I-Olean, is ready for action. In response to the Newtown school shooting, Sen. Young has proposed expanding Kendra's Law in New York state.
"The current system is flawed, even in New York," Sen. Young said in the Dec. 23 edition of The Post-Journal. "Why should we allow people with the most severe psychiatric disturbances who pose a risk to themselves or others to deteriorate before they get help? Why should we wait until they become a safety threat?"
The law, which was passed in 1999, allows for court-ordered assisted outpatient treatment. Sen. Young is proposing changing the period which a court may order assisted outpatient treatment from six months to up to one year. The measure provides judicial flexibility to increase the length of treatment, and studies have indicated that longer periods of treatment, when appropriate, have been shown to be more effective. She also proposes requiring follow-up on those who move during the assisted outpatient treatment period to ensure that people receive their treatment and requiring an evaluation for outpatient treatment when mental health patients are released from inpatient treatment or incarceration so that people needing services do not fall through the cracks.
A national discussion and solution is needed. There needs to be a concensus on both the best way to help those with mental illness and the best way to pay for it. Obviously, such a solution is likely a long way off.
Sen. Young's approach is a good start for New York. The state Legislature should make it so.