Would mental health services or gun control have prevented the Oak Creek massacre?

"Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker takes questions about his proposal to increase mental health funding by $30 million that he announced on Wednesday, Feb. 6, 2013, in Madison. Walker will propose the funding in his two-year state budget to be introduced on Feb. 20." (source: LaCross Tribune. Photo credit: Scott Bauer | Associated Press)

“Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker takes questions about his proposal to increase mental health funding by $30 million that he announced on Wednesday, Feb. 6, 2013, in Madison. Walker will propose the funding in his two-year state budget to be introduced on Feb. 20.” (source: LaCrosse Tribune. Photo credit: Scott Bauer | Associated Press)

On Wednesday, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker announced plans to invest $30 million towards mental health in his state to address gun violence, particularly after the mass shooting of Sikhs in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, last August:

“Initially, the discussion centered on those tragedies,” he said. “But it’s really much bigger than that, it’s much broader than that, it’s not just in reaction to that. There is a tremendous need in terms of addressing mental health in our society.”

The intention behind the funding is to support mental and behavioral health programs for children and for those in crisis. Yet, as needed as such an investment is, one wonders about whether increased access mental health services would have saved the lives of six Sikhs killed by a white supremacist who had a long history in the hate movement. We also know that white supremacy and domestic hate groups do not appear to be of significant focus by law enforcement agencies.

Ten days after the shooting in Oak Creek, a 16 year-old youth shot and killed another Sikh, Dalbir Singh, in the Milwaukee area during a failed robbery attempt. The youth was recently sentenced to five years in a juvenile correctional facility. In this case, it is also unclear whether a behavioral health program would have prevented the path that led this youth towards gun violence, or whether increased gun control would have prevented this youth from obtaining a gun. There are likely a multitude of factors involved in this case that are not being discussed.

Despite what happened in Oak Creek, there is relatively little talk by our policy makers about the role of the white supremacist movement in perpetrating acts of gun violence, or violence otherwise. Reports have shown that domestic hate groups are continuing to recruit members, their means to spread their propaganda continues unchecked, and even recently, a man in Stamford, Connecticut was discovered with a cache of weapons, bomb materials, and white supremacist propaganda:

Police discovered loaded weapons including rifles and shotguns near entry points to the home, white supremacist and anti-police propaganda, a monitoring system to watch the outside of the home, and a reinforced escape tunnel that ran underground through the backyard, the Stamford Patch reported. They also found bombs that were being prepared with PVC pipes loaded with nuts and bolts that were apparently meant to serve as anti-personnel shrapnel.

Interestingly, certain advocates within the Sikh community in the United States have taken on the cause of gun control as well. Certainly, gun control is a matter of debate, but it is a tenuous assertion that all Sikhs in this country support gun control. And, the question must be asked: under the current gun control proposals, would Wade Michael Page have been able to purchase the weapon he used to attack the worshippers in Oak Creek? If the answer is yes, then the pursuit of gun control in this context may not have the consequence that we are hoping.

Unless we categorize white supremacy as a clinical mental health illness, investments in gun control or mental health will not address the threat posed by hate groups in this country, and as such, policy makers are missing the mark in preventing tragedies such as Oak Creek from re-occurring.


  1. Lori

    While it is true that Wade Michael Page was a white supremacist, I think that it is important to note that white supremacist organizations have not been behind all of the acts of gun violence that we have seen since the Oak Creek incident, including the killing of Dalbir Singh. Targeting white supremacist groups would not have stopped his killer, Deangelo Williams. There is no single answer to explain every act of violence, and it is not always an issue of race.

    • I would certainly agree with you. As I mentioned in the case of Dalbir Singh (and about gun violence generally), there were likely a multitude of factors.

      However, the violence perpetrated by a very active white supremacy movement continues to remain off the radar. In the case of Oak Creek, there is little doubt that white supremacy was very likely the motivation behind Page’s actions. Yet, there has been no significant action taken by our governments or law enforcement agencies to even monitor or track these groups or crimes of hate, despite the history of violence associated with the movement. When the Governor of Wisconsin takes up strategies to counter mass violence, it seems logical that he should also address the causes that were involved in the tragedy that occurred in his state, and it would be reassuring for many to see an effort in that regard.

  2. Pingback: Profiling the mentally ill in the gun violence debate | American Turban

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