Right after the Newtown massacre, my own primary care physician explained his frustration to me during my yearly physical.
A highly respected medical professional and Russian emigre, he had seen our mental health system's failures become more and more apparent over the years.
"You wonder why you have mentally ill persons committing these crimes, but you refuse to even consider how it happened," he said.
"First you closed all the asylums," he said. "And you ruled that mentally ill people cannot be institutionalized against their will unless they pose an immediate danger to themselves or to others. And you can't force them to have treatment or to take their medication."
"And then you open up these centers in the community," he added, "but later, you cut the funding. You put these people out in the street."
"And here in Washington, even if you have insurance, you can't find a psychiatrist. They don't take insurance. They only want people who can pay. They want rich people from Potomac who feel blue and want someone to talk to. The people who really need help, many of them can't hold a job or don't have a lot of money."
"But they have easy access to guns."
"It is easier," he said, "to have access to guns than it is to have access to mental health care. And you wonder why you have mentally ill people running out in the streets with guns, and you wonder why you have these tragedies."
The back story to this conversation was not only the Newtown tragedy, but my efforts - as an elected official - to find a mental health professional for a good friend who is also a constituent of mine and battling depression. He had excellent medical coverage, but we could not find a psychiatrist who would take his insurance and do anything other than prescribe pills. Not one would see him without him having to pay big bucks, which he doesn't have. And even if he had the big bucks, the best shrinks are overbooked and can't take on any more patients.
A month after this discussion, my constituent was hospitalized after the a life-threatening episode. Five days after that, the attending psychiatrist returned him to the care of his PCP. They washed their hands of the matter. Everything my doctor had told me the previous month had come true.
I fully understand that the issue of gun control is a deeply emotional one to the American people, but I am at my wit's end about the mental health crisis being shoved to the back burner over the stalemated gun control issue.
Conservative groups, including the NRA, have supported additional funding for prisons so that people who commit crimes with guns be given mandatory sentences. They have also supported so-called trigger lock legislation, calling for mandatory jail sentences for convicted felons who are caught with guns. They need to be pressured to do the same for mental health funding.
It is time for people on both sides of the gun control debate to actually join together to call for a rebuilding of our nation's mental health system. It won't be easy, and it won't be quick, and the ACA is only a small step and certainly not the answer.
You can mandate care until the cows come home, but if the doctors aren't available and the beds aren't available, it's an empty gesture. Creigh Deeds' son was supposed to have a bed, but one wasn't available. States and localities must fund these programs, and, if they need federal help, so be it.
These tragedies are happening, it seems, every week. A mentally ill person with a gun or knife or a car or whatever commits a horrific crime. Gun control advocates blame the NRA. The NRA fights back, especially if the person uses a knife, or a car, and mockingly says we should have knife control or car control. And nothing happens. Lather. Rise. Repeat.
Dear God, isn't it time we as Americans stop pointing fingers at each other and work together to seek out the possible and find some workable solutions to this crisis?