Seminar addresses guns and mental illness

By John W. Goodwin Jr.


About 20 people gathered at a seminar in Boardman to learn about mental health issues and firearms, an outgrowth of the tragedies caused by illegal and improper use of firearms flooding TV and newspapers.

The five-hour seminar Friday featured specialists from the mental health fields as well as officers specializing in gun-safety training.

The seminar came on the heels of mass shootings across the country such as in Newtown, Conn., in December; the abduction of a 5-year-old boy and subsequent weeklong standoff in Alabama; and the current manhunt for a police officer on a killing spree in Los Angeles.

Dr. Brandy Gilea, clinical director and counselor at Turning Point, which specializes in behavioral health care and substance abuse, said this inundation of violent imagery and stories about wayward gunmen may be casting a bad image about most people with mental illness.

“Most people with mental illness don’t engage in criminal behavior. Most people with mental illness don’t shoot people,” she said. “I am fearful that we are further stigmatizing people right now. ... We are pushing people away from getting help.”

Gilea said most people with mental illness are more likely to hurt themselves rather than someone else. She said only a small number of violent acts are committed by an individual with mental illness.

The seminar included several experts trained in firearm safety.

They all did not agree on new legislation proposed by the federal government to control gun ownership, but all agreed on proper ways to protect children and the mentally unstable when there is a gun in the home.

Mark Gillette of the Youngstown Police Department spoke about several ways of securing guns in the home. He said all guns should be locked up with keys hidden and kept separate from ammunition.

“A decision to keep a firearm in your house is serious and should not be taken lightly,” he said. “I know people want to protect the home, but you also have to protect children, people and the weapon in the home.”

Gillette said parents also should not skirt the issue of firearms and safety training with their children to avoid tragic mistakes.

“Avoiding the subject with kids is not recommended,” he said. “Even if you don’t own a gun, it’s very important if they go out and go to a friends house or something” where there is a firearm.

Gillette offered those in attendance an overview of assault weapons and the proposed changes to the law concerning those firearms.

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