- - Tuesday, July 5, 2016

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Rep. Tim Murphy of Pennsylvania, the only licensed psychologist in the House of Representatives, has worked for three years to win bipartisan votes for his “Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act.” He was asked by the House Republican leadership to examine the nation’s mental-health system and recommend reforms that could prevent or make less likely mass shootings by the dangerously mentally ill.

That should sound good to everybody, but the Democrats, including President Obama, think all that’s needed are additional restrictive gun laws. But Mr. Murphy has concluded that it’s not that the government doesn’t spend enough money on improving mental health, but that it spends it on the wrong things. The federal government allocates $130 billion a year for mental health programs, but most of it goes to helping those with minor problems, such as those just having a bad day. There is little attention to diagnosing and treating the problems of disturbed Americans who need real help.

This tiny fraction of the population often lands on the street or in jail or prison. They make up a third of all suicides. They are often victims of crime and violence at the hands of others and they commit a thousand killings every year. The most infamous killers, from Adam Lanza in Sandy Hook to James Holmes in Aurora and Aaron Alexis at the Washington Navy Yard, were severely mentally ill and recognized as dangerous by family, friends and law enforcement agencies. But they were neither diagnosed nor treated.

Mr. Murphy wants to change that. His bill offers the prospect of actually offering hope to do actual good. The Democratic leadership stalled the bill when it was introduced, but hard work and logical argument have persuaded more than 200 of his House colleagues to join Mr. Murphy as co-sponsors, and it cleared the relevant committee earlier this year by unanimous vote. The full House expects to vote this week and if the legislation is enacted it will be the first successful attempt in half a century to reform a mental health system that is broken and must be fixed.

Success will demonstrate that Congress can get past partisan differences to solve real problems. The Murphy legislation would still have to make it through the Senate before it reaches the president’s desk. If and when that happens, the president will have to decide whether his obsession with guns will trump the fact that there are things that can be done by Republicans and Democrats together to make the American people safe. No demonizing of the law-abiding is necessary. Mr. Murphy’s reforms are badly needed and long overdue. His legislation deserves to become law.

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