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Time to change your clocks and smoke alarm batteries

Daylight saving time starts Sunday, March 11, at 2 a.m., when clocks are set ahead one hour.

Insurance and Safety Fire Commissioner Ralph Hudgens urges everyone to change the batteries in their smoke alarms at the same time they change their clocks to daylight saving time this weekend.

"The annual change to daylight saving time is the perfect opportunity to make sure your smoke alarms are working properly," Hudgens said. "Changing the batteries in each device is the easiest way to ensure continued protection of your family and property."

In 2017, about 94 residential fires in Georgia resulted in 112 deaths. Of those fires, 89 of the homes did not have a working smoke alarm. This year, 25 Georgians have died in 21 residential fires, and in those fatal fires none of the houses having a working smoke alarm.

Commissioner Hudgens encourages all residents to test and clean dust from the smoke alarms monthly. He also recommends that you plan and practice an escape route to the outside of your home in the event of a fire.

High court seeks to end excessive delays in appeals after review of Walker County case

Margie Owens

ATLANTA (AP) — After an appeal in a case took nearly two decades to reach it, Georgia's highest court is instructing judges, lawyers and others to work together to come up with a way to prevent unnecessary delays in the appeals process for criminal cases.

The rare directive from the Georgia Supreme Court came Monday in an opinion on the appeal. Margie Owens was convicted in June 1998 and sentenced to serve life in prison for killing her husband. It took eight years for her motion for a new trial to be heard and denied. Then it took 11 more years for her appeal to get to the state Supreme Court.

The unanimous opinion penned by Justice David Nahmias directs the Council of Superior Court Judges of Georgia to work with groups representing prosecutors, defense attorneys, court clerks and others to come up with a proposal by Sept. 17 to address the problem of extensive and unnecessary appeal delays.

Owens' sister and adult daughter had her involuntarily committed to a hospital in April 1997 because they were concerned about her excessive drinking, violent behavior and threats to kill her husband, the opinion says. On May 17, 1997, family members came over for a cookout. Owens had been drinking heavily and argued with and threatened to kill her husband, the opinion says.

Later that night, after the guests had gone, Owens called 911 and said she may have shot her husband. Officers found Randall Owens lying face down in the trailer. Margie Owens, who was acting intoxicated and belligerent, told officers she and her husband had argued, and she shot him, the opinion says.

She testified at trial that her husband had abused her and threatened to blow her brains out the day of the shooting and that he had long been violent with her. She said he was slapping and choking her when she grabbed something to knock him off her and then heard a gunshot. She said she didn't initially know she had shot him.

A jury found her guilty

Because a Walker County jury found Margie Ownes guilty on a charge of voluntary manslaughter, the the trial court should have vacated her felony murder charge due to the high court ruling in 1992 that states "where the jury renders a verdict for voluntary manslaughter, it cannot also find felony murder based on the same underlying aggravated assault."

of felony murder, voluntary manslaughter and a gun charge. She got life in prison for the murder conviction and five more years for the gun charge.

Within weeks of the verdict in June 1998, she filed a motion for a new trial. A hearing on that motion wasn't held until July 2006, and the court denied the motion a month later. She filed an appeal, but the case record wasn't sent to the state Supreme Court until June 2017.

In the opinion issued Monday, Nahmias wrote that since the jury also found her guilty of voluntary manslaughter, the trial court should have tossed the murder charge. The Supreme Court voided her murder conviction and sent the case back to the trial court to enter a conviction and sentence for voluntary manslaughter.

The maximum sentence for voluntary manslaughter is 20 years in prison and there is no mandatory minimum, so even with the five-year sentence for the gun charge, the trial court could now impose a sentence that is shorter than the time Owens has already spent in prison, Nahmias noted.

Owens' attorney Jennifer Hildebrand said she is excited for her client but declined to comment further.

In addition to the "extensive and largely unexplained delays" in this case, Nahmias also listed in footnotes of the opinion dozens of other cases with unjustified delays. He noted that the Supreme Court and the Georgia Court of Appeals have repeatedly issued admonishments about such delays.

"Some delay is inherent in any legal system, particularly one as busy as Georgia's," Nahmias wrote, "But we must all work to prevent delays, particularly in the most serious of our criminal cases, that cannot be explained or justified to the parties in those cases, the victims of the crimes, and the public we serve."

Mass shootings are not a mental health problem

When we associate mass shootings with mental illness, we are doing a disservice to the millions of Americans who have a mental illness, have found recovery, are living in wellness and have never shot anyone.

The fact that these two issues continue to be associated and presented as cause and effect is wrong.

Continuing to associate mental illness with horrific events only feeds hysteria and stigmatization and keeps people from accessing mental health services when they need help.

If someone feels like they want to harm themselves or others they should be able to get counseling or other support services without fear, shame or judgment. But the stigma surrounding mental issue, lack of access and lack of funding keep many from seeking help.

Studies vary, but they show that 1 in 4 or even 1 in 2 people living in the United States will experience a mental health issue in their lifetime. If we know this, we should be rolling out the red carpet for people to seek help. We don't have to go through life sad, depressed, and full of anxiety, lonely or in other types of emotional pain. We should embrace that we have a mental health system that in most places provides a good infrastructure for people to find recovery and wellness.

I spoke to my 76-year-old mother this morning and shared with her my strong belief that we must stand up and collectively say, "Mass shootings are not a mental health issue." She was surprised and pointed to news accounts of how disturbed the suspect was. Some of this was alarming, but it had little to do with mental illness.

Every day, by using multiple methods of distribution, the problem of mass shootings and other horrific acts is being wrongly associated with mental illness.

The most common

mental health diagnoses are anxiety and depression. The National Alliance on Mental Illness reports that approximately 20 percent of people living in the United States will experience a mental health issue during the year. About 18 percent of adults struggle with anxiety disorders like PTSD, OCD or various phobia, the most common disorders. Another 7 percent or so struggle with depression. Then you have conditions like schizophrenia, anorexia, bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder, and so forth.

Millions of Americans suffer from anxiety, depression and other disorders, and many of them have guns, yet they don't go on mass shooting sprees.

Having problems, grieving, being upset, and being angry are not mental illnesses. As human beings we all experience these emotions, but most of us don't go shooting others when we are having these feelings. If we are lucky we find qualified people to help us overcome these issues.

Jonathan Foiles, a licensed clinical social worker, in a recent story for Psychology Today clarifies the erroneous link between mental illness and violence: "The supposed link between mental illness and violence is so ingrained in our culture that stories like the above need only suggest that the perpetrator was depressed in order to satisfy a need for an explanation. Research reveals a far different story, however. People with mental illnesses are actually far more likely to be victims rather than perpetrators of violence (Appleby et. al., 2001). Those with severe mental illnesses (schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, psychosis) are actually 2.5 times more likely to be victims of a violent crime than the general population (Hiday, 2006). A 2011 study found that in order to prevent one violent homicide by a person with schizophrenia, 35,000 patients deemed to be at a high risk of violence would need to be detained (Large et. al., 2011). And yet the link persists. A 2013 survey conducted after the Newtown shooting found that 46 percent of Americans believe that persons with a serious mental illness are "far more dangerous than the general population" (Barry et. al., 2013)."

Unfortunately some people feel that causing harm or death to others will bring them relief from some problem or emotional pain they are having. But it is not due to mental illness.

The difference is that each one of us manages emotions differently. Some of us are taught to accept our emotions, to talk things out, to write in a journal, to exercise, to surround ourselves with loved ones who will provide comfort and support and other techniques, including sometimes seeking professional counseling.

Broward County sheriff visits shooting victim.

Yet others are raised in environments where violence, excessive drinking, drug use, abandonment, or other unhealthy behavior is the way to manage emotions and going to counseling is absolutely not acceptable.

It is here where I believe we need to focus our efforts. Not in mistakenly blaming many individuals who have a mental illness or by justifying why we have so many guns available in this country. We must focus on helping young people learn how to manage emotions, how to navigate adolescence and how to build a sense of belonging. Mass shootings are not a mental health problem. They are the result of individuals with access to guns who believe shooting others will bring them relief or misguided glory.

Let's stop the finger-pointing and get to work, America. We need to start early and help our young people succeed, not just academically but emotionally and socially as well. We can have a better society, but to eradicate mass shootings we all have to do our part. What will you do today to help eradicate mass shootings in America?

Pierluigi Mancini is the president of the Multicultural Development Institute, Inc. With over 30 years of experience in culturally and linguistically appropriate behavioral health treatment and prevention, Dr. Mancini is a consultant and speaker on the subject of mental health and addiction.

Survey says: Parents fear school shootings

Jagdish Khubchandani

Editor's note: This summary of a research paper was sent by Ball State University more than a month before the fatal shootings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. Since that shooting in Broward County, just north of Miami, there have been threats of violence leading to closures, lock downs and student expulsions at several schools in the Tri-State area.

One third of parents believe their local high school will suffer a shooting incident in the next three years, but few know of effective countermeasures to stop such violence from happening, says a new study from Ball State University.

Parents' Expectations of High Schools in Firearm Violence Prevention, a multi-university survey of 257 Midwestern parents, found that about 36 percent of respondents believed their local high school was 'highly likely' to have a gun incident in the next three years.

"Gun violence is a major issue among parents, who often have a limited grasp of potentially effective interventions to reduce such events," said Jagdish Khubchandani, an associate professor of health science at Ball State University. Khubchandani authored the study with faculty from the University of Toledo and the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. In December 2017 it was published in The Journal of Community Health.

"Some parents are quick to blame others for a shooting because they have no idea how to stop such incidents from happening," Khubchandani added. "In fact, the study suggests that most parents have a limited knowledge of what works and what doesn't in preventing these incidents."

Khubchandani doesn't fault parents for this lack of knowledge.

"The research regarding specific interventions schools should undertake to best reduce their risks of firearm violence occurring at school (or at school events) is nonexistent," the Journal study

points out.

This lack of research is "due to how rare these firearm violence events are in schools," Khubchandani explained.

Studies show that a total of 2,787 recorded firearm deaths occurred in 2015 among Americans younger than 19 years old, with 95 percent of homicides and suicides that year occurring off school grounds.

Yet school shootings are often highly publicized, creating incorrect perceptions of firearm risks in schools among both parents and school administrators — misperceptions "that can result in ineffective policies and action," Khubchandani said.

The study also found that parents perceived inadequate parental monitoring/rearing practices; peer harassment and/or bullying; inadequate mental health care services for youth and easy access to guns as major causes of firearm violence in schools.

Parents believed the following school policies were most effective in reducing firearm violence: installing an alert system in schools; working with law enforcement to design an emergency response plan; creating a comprehensive security plan; requiring criminal background checks for all school personnel prior to hiring; and implementing an anonymous system for students to report peer concerns regarding potential violence.

Common school practices such as random searches of backpacks or lockers and/or installation of metal detectors or bullet-proof glass were viewed by parents as less effective policies for reducing school firearm violence, the study found.

Parents also were less supportive of having trained school personnel carrying firearms.

"Our study also indicated the majority of parents are dissatisfied with many of the systems schools currently have in place to counteract gun violence," Khubchandani said. "It's a strong indicator that parents want a greater say in how their local schools are addressing the issue."

The study should be used to assist school administrators in providing more of the kinds of school policies parents want to see in place to prevent this kind of violence, he said.

Dr. Jagdish Khubchandani was the recipient of Indiana Governor's Service Learning Award (2012), Hurley Goodall Distinguished Faculty Award (2012), and the BSU Outstanding Junior Faculty Award (2014).