President Donald Trump and other Republican leaders are again pointing to mental health as an influence in the nation’s most recent mass shootings, but one Fulton County high school student said he disagrees with the rhetoric and wants more funding for mental health care in public schools.
Ethan Asher, 17, of Roswell, founded the Georgia chapter of March For Our Lives last year after the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. He was most recently announced as one of the national winners of the 2019 Diller Teen Award, a $36,000 award for teens making positive impacts in their community.
Asher was in the District of Columbia when he and the group of people he was with — organizers working to stem gun violence across the county — heard the news first about the shooting at an El Paso, Texas, Walmart and hours later in Dayton, Ohio. Their reaction was visceral, and they immediately picked up cellphones and started making calls.
But something deeper stirred as Asher’s desire for answers couldn’t come fast enough.
“We don't know how many shooters there were; we didn't know how many victims there were; we didn't know where it was happening,” Asher said. “We literally knew nothing. So, it's the not knowing that really was anxiety causing in this scenario.”
Even while processing the most recent shootings, Asher quickly disagreed with what he called a “Republican talking point.”
Trump called for a reformation of mental health laws when he addressed the nation after the shootings in Texas and Ohio “to better identify mentally disturbed individuals who may commit acts of violence.”
“Mental illness and hatred pulls the trigger, not the gun,” Trump said.
But Asher said comprehensive legislation could not only address these situations from a mental health standpoint, but also from a point regarding access to firearms.
“You remove a gun from a situation, you stop a shooting. You get person the mental health care that they needed as a child or through development, you stop a shooting,” he said.
- Gov. Kemp, Democrats Share Their 'State Of The State'
- Kemp Signs 2020 Budget During South Georgia Swing
- Kemp Orders State Offices To Start Cutting Budgets
However, Asher said despite the support he receives from his Roswell high school, he worries about the schools without access to mental health counselors.
“I think that (common sense gun legislation) also looks like funding mental health care and putting mental health professionals in high schools in every public high school in America because we all need mental health professionals,” Asher said.
Gov. Brian Kemp allocated $8.4 million from the state budget to go toward paying for mental health professionals through the Georgia Apex program. This funding will allow for more faculty training and more mental health professionals to be brought into public schools by 2020.
“These professionals will engage with struggling students and provide critical resources to prevent disruptive and aggressive behavior,” Kemp said. “They will inspire, mentor and keep our students safe.”
The Carter Center in Atlanta has been holding monthly forums across the state for educators, parents, policy makers and behavioral health specialists. These forums are meant to educate attendees about behavioral health changes that could lead to a more positive climate in public schools. The Carter Center forums, which are also co-hosted by Georgia Appleseed for Law and Justice and Voices for Georgia’s Children, started in April and will continue through September.