Conn. gun hearings address mental health

Jan. 29, 2013 at 4:46 PM
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HARTFORD, Conn., Jan. 29 (UPI) -- Connecticut lawmakers wrestling with the aftermath of the Newtown school shootings heard testimony Tuesday about the inadequacies of the mental health system.

One day after 2,100 people descended on the Capitol for the first day of hearings on gun control, experts told the Bipartisan Task Force on Gun Violence there is a lack of psychiatrists to treat children in mental crisis, The Hartford Courant reported.

"This puts a huge burden our entire health care system on a daily basis," Dr. Kenneth N. Spiegelman, a pediatrician, testified, describing emergency rooms whose beds can be more than half-filled by children in mental crisis.

The hearing is in response to the Dec. 14 shooting at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown that left 20 children and six school personnel dead in addition to the gunman, Adam Lanza, and his mother. No information about Lanza's mental condition has been released by authorities.

Spiegelman cited the case of a 13-year-old girl who was cutting herself and exhibited signs of depression. He said though he gave the child's mother the names of five psychiatrists, she was unable to get an appointment with any, in part because of insurance company coverage restrictions.

About 400 people registered to testify Monday, many wearing yellow buttons reading "Another Responsible Gun Owner" and commenting that new gun-control regulations would infringe on constitutional rights of citizens who have not broken the law.

Some blamed Lanza's mother.

"The parents have to know their child and their behavior," said Gregory Droniak, 58, a National Rifle Association member. Added ex-Marine Tim Rockefeller, "I don't believe any law would stop a madman from killing his own mother."

Rockefeller added, "The term 'assault weapon' is a political term, not a gun term. An assault weapon is a made-up term."

Christopher Yen said he opposed an extension of the now-lapsed federal assault weapons ban.

"These ideas have been tried before on the federal level, from 1994 to 2004," Yen said. "These laws don't work. They failed to save a single life. Virginia Tech -- these laws would have done nothing. Ten-round magazine? Seven-round limit? Doesn't make a difference. Your legislative efforts are better spent elsewhere."

Parents of three children also testified.

"This is not about the right to bear arms. It is about the right to bear weapons with the capacity of mass destruction. Assault weapons should be comprehensively banned," said Veronique Pozner, whose son was among the 20 children killed in the assault.

Pozner's testimony and that of Mark Mattioli and Neil Heslin, fathers of Newtown victims, were the emotional centerpiece of the hearing. The parents' comments underscored the differing views on what government's response should be, the newspaper noted.

"We should hold people individually accountable for their actions and we should enforce the laws appropriately, and I would say we're not currently enforcing them appropriately," said Mattioli.

"I ask if there's anybody in this room that can give me one reason why anybody needs to have one of these assault-style weapons or military weapons or high-capacity clips," said Heslin.

The audience at the hearing spilled over into four additional hearing rooms that carried the proceedings on video screens and loudspeakers, the newspaper noted.

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