Gun control, mental health, and the Holocaust

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By
Robert Gluck/JNS.org

While
the gun control debate intensifies in the U.S., a bipartisan group of lawmakers
is pointing to improved treatment of mental health issues, rather than stricter
gun laws, as the proper preventive measure for high-profile shootings such as
those at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newton, Conn., and a Century movie
theater in Aurora, Colo.

Click photo to download. Caption: United States President Barack Obama listens as Vice President Joe Biden presents proposals as part of the Obama Administration’s response to the shootings in Newtown, Connecticut, during a policy meeting in the Cabinet Room of the White House on January 14, 2013. During the divisive national debate on gun control, some federal legislators are now arguing for laws to provide better mental illness treatment as a preventive measure for shootings, rather than stricter gun laws. Credit: Pete Souza/White House.

Understanding
the past may yield the solution to this modern problem, as some experts and advocates
say contemporary mistreatment of mental health issues can be partially traced
back to how the Nazis treated people with mental illnesses during the Holocaust.

Gun
control is an often divisive debate dictated by party lines, but the New York Times reported April 12 that a
bipartisan group federal legislators is working on plans to improve the
treatment of mental health issues, and incorporate such plans into a future gun
bill, because they agree those issues are the primary cause of large-scale shootings.

“This is a
place where people can come together,” said U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI),
according to the New York Times. “As
we’ve listened to people on all sides of the gun debate, they’ve all talked
about the fact that we need to address mental health treatment. And that’s what
this does.”

“This is
actually something we can and should do something about,” U.S. Sen. John Cornyn
(R-TX) said. “We need to make sure that the mentally ill are getting the help
they need.”

Click photo to download. Caption: The March on Washington for Gun Control, on Jan. 26, 2013, in the aftermath of the school shooting that killed 26 in Newtown, Connecticut. Credit: Slowking4/Wikimedia Commons.

Not
apparent from the statements and plans of senators, however, is the connection
between the Holocaust and mental illness. According to Michael Burleigh, author
of Death and Deliverance: Euthanasia in
Germany, c. 1900-1945
, from 1939-1945 the Nazis systematically murdered 200,000
people with mental illness, whom they stigmatized.

Burleigh’s
book was the first full-scale study in English of this complex and covert
series of operations known as the “euthanasia” program. Dr. Patricia
Heberer—author of Children During the
Holocaust
, a specialist on medical crimes and eugenics policies in Nazi
Germany, and a historian in the Center for Advanced Holocaust Studies at the U.S.
Holocaust Memorial Museum—tells JNS.org
that Burleigh’s book “did a good job of looking at everyone involved,
especially the victims.”

The
Holocaust museum houses Nazi propaganda films about victims, many who had
mental illness, in its Steven Spielberg archives. Heberer uses these films in
presentations she gives to faculties at America’s top medical schools.

“I
give a presentation of the sterilization and so-called euthanasia program and
insert the films in the middle so people can see how propagandists portrayed
the mentally ill at the time,” Heberer says.

In
the films, the …read more
Source: JNS.org

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