The fragile link between gun control and mental health

Harkey said gun control is not the issue, it’s funding for the mentally ill

Vester Lee Flanagan II
This undated photo provided by WDBJ-TV, shows Vester Lee Flanagan II, who killed WDBJ reporter Alison Parker and cameraman Adam Ward in Moneta, Va., Wednesday, Aug. 26, 2015. Flanagan was a former employee at WDBJ who appeared on air as Bryce Williams. (WDBJ-TV via AP) MANDATORY CREDIT

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Kathy Harkey has been volunteering and working the National Alliance on Mental Illness or NAMI Central Virginia for nine years. Harkey got involved with the non-profit agency after her oldest son committed suicide years ago.

When the NAMI Director learned of the tragic shootings of three people, where three of the victims died Harkey knew right away the suspect, Vester Flanagan would be labeled as being mentally ill.

“People need a reason, why did a person do this? So immediately they say mental illness and a lot of times there is not a mental illness involved,” Harkey stated.

She added a person can have anger issues without being mentally ill, and it’s up to family, friends and even co-workers to suggest a person who is facing challenging issues to get help.

“Anger management is something that maybe should’ve been suggested to him (Flanagan), family friends just anyone he has relationships with should’ve probably have identified you have some serious anger issues here,” said Harkey. “People sometimes have a hard time stepping in on others, ‘hey, look you’re mad all the time, you’re really angry, and it’s not normal anger you have. I think you need to see someone.’

“They might not want to do that, but we need to,” said Harkey.

The NAMI Director also said when tragedies happen, the debates over gun control become more prevalent.

However, Harkey said gun control is not the issue, it’s funding for the mentally ill.

“I continually hear whenever there’s a tragedy in the United states I continually hear we need to do something with gun laws, we need to put bans on guns and things of that nature, but I will be perfectly honest with you, the underlying cause of these tragedies is the illness the person is suffering with,” Harkey explained.

“We need to invest any funds we have in treating that illness, if we treat the mental illness that a person has or the medical illness that a person has that’s causing them to act out then that’s going to take care of any gun issues, the problem is the system, the mental health system specifically is underfunded.”

If you need help, or know someone who needs help, you may call the Western Massachusetts NAMI office at 413-786-9139 or toll free at 1-800-295-2121. To learn more visit

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