Kansas City Star. June 2, 2022.
Editorial: If only mental health care will stop gun violence, Kansas and Missouri are way behind
One week after an 18-year-old gunman murdered 21 people, including 19 children, opponents of reasonable gun restrictions continue to shift the focus to other possible causes, including a lack of mental health services.
“We need to look at what is causing these attacks,” said Rep. Vicky Hartzler of Missouri. “Are there mental health problems that we can address?” she asked.
“We need to continue working to ensure anyone who has a mental or behavioral health issue can get the treatment they need, when they need it,” Sen. Roy Blunt of Missouri told the PBS NewsHour.
“We as a state, we as a society, need to do a better job with mental health,” said Texas Gov. Greg Abbott.
Americans should not be misled. The problem is individual access to high-powered weaponry, not just mental illness. There is no indication the Uvalde, Texas, shooter sought mental health counseling. There’s no evidence better services would have prevented this particular slaughter.
Moreover, emphasizing mental health concerns after mass killings unfairly maligns millions of Americans who are dealing with depression and other issues. Not everyone who seeks help plans to shoot someone else. In fact, blaming mental illness for gun violence may dissuade some patients from seeking help when they need it.
The first and most important answer for gun violence is fewer guns, period.
At the same time, improving mental health treatment in this country is essential on its own terms. More than one-third of adult Missourians reported symptoms of anxiety or depression in just one week last fall; in Kansas, the figure was 29%.
The coronavirus crisis tripled the number of people facing mental health issues. “In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, mental health conditions have been exacerbated,” the Kaiser Family Foundation reports.
Mental illness hurts patients, families and friends. It damages the economy. It causes suffering and, on occasion, violence.
This year, lawmakers in Kansas and Missouri — flush with cash — made some welcome additional investments in mental health services. But there is much, much more to do.
In 2022, according to Mental Health America, an advocacy group, Missouri ranked 41st in the nation in access to mental health care. Kansas, which refuses to expand Medicaid, was even worse, at 44th in the country. Those are appalling numbers.
Mental health services for children in both states are substandard. In Kansas, there is one school psychologist for every 1,157 students. One study found. Missouri’s ratio is one psychologist per 4,867 students. The recommended ratio is 1-500.
“We need more mental health professionals in our schools,” said National Education Association President Becky Pringle.
“We have a children’s mental health crisis,” said a recent statement from Sherrie Vaughn, executive director of the Kansas chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness.
In Kansas and Missouri, it’s still too hard to find mental health service providers and to pay the costs of treatment. As a result, hundreds of thousands of people in both states suffer, mostly in silence.
Both states must continue to increase spending on mental health services and availability. After that, though, there is more to do: Legislators must link mental health treatment with the ability to buy or hold a weapon.
Both Kansas and Missouri lack so-called “red flag laws,” which allow courts to temporarily restrict firearms possession for those who are a proven threat to themselves or others. Both states should pass such laws.
To his credit, Blunt has said he is open to a national red flag law. Congress should act if states do not. There is no reason someone in a mental health crisis should have access to a weapon.
America has too many guns. It also has too many people who need help with mental illness. We should work on the first problem, and, at the same time, work on the second.
St. Louis Post-Dispatch. June 5, 2022.
Editorial: Missouri lawmakers gut lottery’s ad budget even as they enable unregulated competitors
Missouri’s state lottery has become a crucial fiscal asset for the state, projected to generate $400 million in revenue for Missouri schools this year. That windfall could be even greater if the Legislature hadn’t spent the past few years drastically slashing the lottery’s advertising and promotional budgets to practically nothing.
It would actually be comforting to believe this is just short-sightedness by the state’s leaders, but it’s fair to wonder if it’s a deliberate undermining of the games. After all, these are the same lawmakers who take political contributions from an unregulated (and arguably illegal) video gaming industry that competes with the lottery for gaming dollars.
The issue was raised anew last week with the sudden resignation announcement of longtime lottery Director May Scheve-Reardon. She cited frustration at advertising cuts that, she said, are already starting to affect ticket sales.
Scheve-Reardon has presided over roughly a doubling of lottery sales in her 13 years at the helm — a record that wouldn’t have been possible without an advertising budget that, in years past, went as high as $16 million. But recent years of slash-and-burn cuts by the Legislature brought it down to its current level of $400,000. A separate line item for promotional events has been cut in the new state budget from a little over $2 million to… $1.
“We spent 13 years building an amazing business, and slowly but surely, the Legislature was taking away the tools we needed,” Scheve-Reardon told us last week.
Most sizable businesses spend from 5% to 10% of their gross revenue on advertising. The Missouri lottery has never spent anything like that — but at least its multimillion-dollar ad and promotional budgets allowed it to compete with the casinos and other gambling options. The $400,000 available now is little more than a token. “You can’t do anything with that,” Scheve-Reardon said.
Is that perhaps the whole point?
It seems inconsistent that legislative Republicans, who are always waxing on about how government should be run like a business, would scuttle one of the first rules of business — you have to spend money to make money — and hobble a cash cow that schools rely upon. It makes even less sense that these cuts in an already-modest lottery promotional budget come at a time when state coffers are flush with cash.
As we reiterated recently, the Legislature has failed to rein in the thousands of unregulated electronic gaming machines operating around the state, in apparent defiance of state gaming laws, which contribute not one red cent to Missouri schools or other services. The makers of those machines do, however, contribute heavily to the lawmakers who keep letting them operate — and who are, at the same time, making it harder for the lottery to compete with them. What are the betting odds that’s a coincidence?