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A man embraces a young boy as they look at a memorial in front of the St. Rose of Lima Catholic church in Newtown, Conn., Dec. 16, 2012. (LUCAS JACKSON/REUTERS)
A man embraces a young boy as they look at a memorial in front of the St. Rose of Lima Catholic church in Newtown, Conn., Dec. 16, 2012. (LUCAS JACKSON/REUTERS)

Expats debate: Does a mental-health strategy need to be part of Obama’s guns task force? Add to ...

President Barack Obama is to announce a guns task force in the wake of the Newtown massacre. The ideas already circulating among politicians and stakeholders include renewing a ban on military-style semi-automatic assault weapons that expired in 2004, limits on gun magazine clips and the number of bullets that can be fired, and a broader mental health strategy. The Newtown shooter used a Bushmaster AR-15 semiautomatic rifle, reportedly firing more than a hundred rounds.

The exact motive of the Newtown shooter – and clues from his medical history – remains a mystery. But increasingly, Americans are raising the issue of mental health in the context of gun control measures to prevent future mass shootings. So have Globe and Mail expats living in the U.S. Here are there reflections.

Dennis Sifton, physician in Williamsburg, Virginia, originally from southern Ontario:

The pattern has become clear that there are many factors that are unique to each [mass shooting] but [they] have a recurring undercurrent.

The perpetrators are all young males with varying degrees of mental derangement some of whom have been involved with the mental health system. Many had been identified as being "odd" by educators. Also, a failure to intervene in some cases by family. They all have had access to guns of various sorts – usually assault-type semi automatic weapons with large clips.

I could speak to each of these factors by saying that a lot of people could have intervened in each case along the way. I think there is a crisis in mental health care both here and in Canada for this particular demographic. There is a paucity of professionals to treat these patients. There is also an unwillingness of those treating to take a stand when they see the danger signals as there is an overriding fear of lawsuits if a person is detained for mental health reasons.

There is also a problem of failure to identify some of the autism spectrum disorder patients. The education system and parents also bear some responsibility. Many of these young men are loners and are drawn to the profuse availability of violent movies and video games.

Anne Britton, optometrist living in Rapid City, South Dakota, originally from Montreal:

I don't know if gun control is the answer or if the gun culture here is too strong. Definitely, something needs to be done with [treating] mental illnesses.

The Facebook posts about this happening because we took God out of the schools bother me the most. I want to ask them: Does believing in God protect you from mental illnesses? Can you not raise kids into wonderful adults without the church? Funny, I'm doing it.

Everyone tells me my kids are great kids. Polite, thoughtful, helpful to others, non-judgmental. And they never set foot in a church. These are my values. American can't keep from putting the blame on something else than us as society having a problem!

Sherry Halfyard, a career consultant in Phoenix, Ariz., from Vancouver Island, B.C.:

Why is that we need to have such (unsubstantiated) theories almost immediately after the event? Is it our personal fear? Could this happen to my family? I liken it to a car accident or a crime where we seem to flock together and simply watch – secretly thinking: “Lucky it wasn't me [or] us”…

Now all the "mental illness" speculation – the rationale being: how could a sane person do this? To be classified as mentally ill (in the eyes of the law) the shooter would have to have thought he was out hunting birds – not people. Based on the little bit I have heard, this crime appears to be premeditated [and], therefore, committed by a "legally" sane person. Of course "we" will never really know for sure. What is certain, there will be plenty of theories.

Robert Slaven, an actuary who moved recently to Arizona after living in southern California since 2008, lived for most of his life in Yellowknife, NWT. He is a gun owner and argues why an assault weapons ban would be “useless”:

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