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.