Preventing a tragedy: Focus on gun control or mental health?

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Posted: Monday, December 17, 2012 3:58 pm | Updated: 9:18 pm, Mon Dec 31, 2012.

SARASOTA - In speaking about the Newtown, Connecticut school shooting, President Obama has called for "meaningful action" to prevent such horrors in the future. Would tighter gun control do it, or better mental health care?

Guy Lemakos puts on guns shows from St. Petersburg to Port Charlotte. Just one day after the mass killing in Connecticut, Robarts Arena played host to one.

"It's so easy to have a knee jerk reaction and say you gun people are responsible," says Lemakos. He says the typical gun owner is law abiding, honest, morally sound, and responsible. He says restricting or taking away rights won’t solve anything. "If you have a criminal-minded crazy person looking to kill people, it doesn't matter what they have or what they have access to. They are going to do the harm that they want to do."

Our camera was not allowed in the show, but those outside say you have to look deeper. "Somebody should have come forward and confronted the situation and got him some help…figure out what needed to be done," said gun show visitor John Redmann.

"Most often…there are some signs." Dr. Christopher Cortman has been a psychologist on the Suncoast for nearly 30 years. He says the number of those struggling internally is more than you might think. “Mental illness, a diagnosable mental illness, affects anywhere between 22 and 24 percent of the population at any given time."

Now becoming more intertwined in a turbulent environment. "We live in a very violent society. The rest of the world is amazed by homicide rate in the states. A big part of it is that we have a culture with so much violence."

Recent studies show gun-related deaths in other countries like Germany and Canada are fewer than 200 a year. In the U.S. it's more than 9,000 annually.

Dr. Cortman suggests it's not just what we get our hands on, but also what we put our eyeballs on. “I don't doubt for a minute that this guy was reenacting what he had seen and probably played hours on with some type of video game. He is bringing in equipment and he is going to mow people down."

Dr. Cortman believes more visual violence, mental instability, and tools to act it out are leading to a deadly mix. "It does seep into our psyche, and it is made manifest in behavior."

Something we heard over and over at the gun show was that if more people had guns, then perhaps someone could have stopped or lessened the shooting Friday.

It's expected next week or even this weekend Florida will issue its one-millionth concealed weapon and firearm license. The state is already the most legally armed state on the country.

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