(Aug. 22, 2013) A 20-year-old gunman who allegedly entered a Georgia elementary school with hundreds of rounds of ammunition this week was reportedly “not on his medications” for his bipolar disorder (“Antoinette Tuff hailed as ‘real hero’ for handling Georgia school gunman,” CNN, Aug. 22).
Because school employee Antoinette Tuff was able to talk Michael Hill into surrendering, this school drama ended far differently than the one in Newtown last year. Nobody was hurt, accused gunman Michael Hill has been arrested and charged with multiple felonies, and members of the county court’s mental health division are now handling his case.
None of us can count on heroes like Ms. Tuff to be nearby every time a person with serious mental illness presents a risk for violence. But Georgia has another option for preventing tragedies caused by the small subset of people with severe mental illness who are not in treatment and are at risk to commit violent acts.
Georgia is one of 45 states with an assisted outpatient treatment (AOT) law authorizing court-ordered treatment in the community for individuals with severe mental illness who meet strict state criteria. From news accounts that Hill lived quietly and safely in the community while on his medications, it appears he might have been a candidate for AOT.
We know that AOT saves lives but a law only works when it is used. This averted tragedy should be a wake-up call to Georgia and the other 44 states with AOT laws: Laws only work when they are implemented. Our communities should not have to rely on the timely appearance of heroes like Tuff to save lives.