LePage urges Congress to focus gun debate on mental health

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AUGUSTA — Gov. Paul LePage is urging Vice President Joe Biden and lawmakers in Washington to focus more on mental health issues and less on gun control as they wrestle with ways to reduce gun violence in the U.S.

LePage is expected to speak on the topic during his weekly statewide radio address to Maine residents Saturday morning. He released copies of letters Wednesday that he sent to Biden and Maine’s congressional delegation on the matter.

The governor says the problem facing the nation has little to do with firearm ownership and “nearly everything to do with mental health issues.”

“Maine has a long history of responsible gun ownership,” LePage states in his letter to Biden. “Criminalizing these law-abiding citizens will only ensure that criminals are the ones with guns.”

In a news statement on the letters, LePage noted recent mass shootings around the country.

“The tragedies experienced in Aurora, Sandy Hook and Virginia Tech are horrific and the loss of life unconscionable,” LePage said. “However, to prevent future tragedies, we must learn more about the real problem, which is mental health issues. We must be willing to focus on the accessibility and delivery of mental health care services.”

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LePage’s state budget proposal includes an additional $2 million to improve access to mental health services across the state.

“I am confident these initiatives will mean much more to the individuals receiving these services than simply passing unnecessary gun laws,” LePage wrote.

In his message Saturday, the governor is expected to say Maine is one of the highest-ranked states in the nation for the delivery of mental health services but gets only a “B” ranking, with five other states, by the National Alliance on Mental Illness. The U.S. overall was given a “D”; no state got an “A.”

LePage is expected to note his support for clubhouse programs in Lewiston, Waterville and Augusta. 

The clubhouse concept provides a “supportive space for those with mental illness where employment is used as the primary rehabilitation tool through which members become engaged and recover.”

The Lewiston Clubhouse, which opened in January, already has 160 members with an average daily attendance of 30 people, according to the governor.

sthistle@sunjournal.com

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