Rene Garcia: Stakes too high for rhetoric in addressing mass shooting epidemic

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State Senator Rene Garcia
State Senator Rene Garcia

It’s been a difficult and emotional week for many of us, but nothing can compare to the grief and sorrow experienced by the family and friends who lost loved ones in the Orlando massacre.

I had the opportunity to visit Orlando last weekend to pay my respects, and was moved by the courage of the first responders of Orlando Regional Hospital and the Orlando Police Department, who had seen things I never wish to see.

Being a public servant is a hard job. In circumstances like these, you long for an immediate solution that can ease these families’ grief, but you recognize too well that the challenges posed by this tragedy are very complex in nature.

The issues of gun violence, national security, mental health, and hate crimes are too familiar and, as of recently, they are policy areas that have considerable overlap. While there is a clear responsibility for the federal government to confront these issues, there is much to address at the state and local level. After all, these are precisely the kinds of problems my colleagues and I were elected to resolve.

Faced with these challenges, public servants easily retreat to all-too-comfortable political corners, catapulting polarizing language at opponents to rile up their base of support. It is even easier to do this when crises like Sandy Hook, San Bernardino, and Charleston happen thousands of miles away. But when your community loses loved ones, there is no blue or red, there is no conservative or liberal; there is only one way forward: to do what needs to be done to protect your community.

In light of this, it is clear political talking points can no longer be seen as a legitimate policy proposal. It is time to thoughtfully — and once and for all — address the issue of gun violence at its root cause while also respecting our constitutional rights.

Complex problems often require multi-pronged solutions with an emphasis toward compromise to not let perfect get in the way of good. With this in mind, elected officials must begin where there is the most common ground. Undoubtedly, in the case of gun violence and public safety, that common ground is found in the early diagnosis and sufficient treatment of mental illness.

Of course, issues such as the extent of background checks and the specifics of the “no fly, no buy” policy are extremely important to addressing the overlap between our Second Amendment rights and due process afforded to all Americans, but the blatant public silence toward the psychological states of those who seek to irrevocably damage communities cannot go on any longer.

Studies have indicated the majority of gunmen in mass shootings have been had confirmed symptoms and, in some cases, formal diagnoses of mental illness. Moreover, at all levels of government, the infrastructure for the public treatment of mental illness is inadequate and uncoordinated.

We changed that in Florida, requiring that state-contracted behavioral health providers and local law enforcement agencies and governments create a coordinated care plan to make the system more streamlined, while also providing financial resources for locally operated Community and Family Action Teams to be trained in identifying symptoms and episodes of mental illness.

These sorts of approaches are empowering Florida’s neighborhoods to bring those suffering mental illness out of the shadows and into their families’ and communities’ support. While this is a great first step, there is still a long road ahead of us in the fight against the stigma of mental health treatment, and much more needs to be done.

Addressing the epidemic of mass shootings will require these kinds of bold and robust solutions from our elected officials. The stakes are simply too high for politicizing rhetoric, polarization and inaction. The stakes are too high for an imperfect, yet beneficial, solution to continue to be ignored. It falls on the responsibility of all elected officials, including myself, to leave no stone unturned in the search for a lifesaving solution to this public safety dilemma.

Let’s come together to address one significant part of this multidimensional challenge that has come before us, so we can make the situation better before it gets worse.


Hialeah Republican Rene Garcia represents Florida Senate District 38.


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