Emotional Health

Stop Blaming the Mentally Ill

The United States does not have higher rates of psychiatric disorders than other comparable nations, but it does have a much higher rate of gun-related homicides. Other nations have shown that when action is taken to limit access to guns, there are fewer deaths. Australia is a good example. NBC News reports that “Following enactment of gun law reforms in Australia in 1996, there were no mass firearm killings through May 2016,” according to Simon Chapman of the University of Sydney. His team found, “From 1979-1996 (before gun law reforms), 13 fatal mass shootings occurred in Australia, whereas from 1997 through May 2016 (after gun law reforms), no fatal mass shootings occurred.”

How can such evidence continue to be ignored? One could argue that Americans suffer from a national “delusion” that guns make us safer, despite all evidence to the contrary. Arming school teachers, a suggestion made by President Trump this week, is further evidence of the tenacity of this false perspective. Consider the security guard at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, who failed (or was unable) to stop the attack. If a well trained, experienced law enforcement agent couldn’t act effectively, what makes us think that a first-grade teacher could do it, even with training?

Assault weapons have no role to play in personal safety, experts agree. They are weapons of mass destruction, developed for warriors, intended to kill many people quickly. Average citizens have no need for them whatsoever, except, ironically, in a firefight with someone else with such a weapon. If they were banned, and no one had them, no one would need them.

Would someone determined to get them be able to do so anyway, as some have argued? Perhaps, but making it harder would definitely reduce deaths, as nations like Australia have proven.

It would be a great advance if the treatment of psychiatric disorders were more widely funded, of course. Instead of focusing on the mentally ill, however, think of the average person, even yourself. Who hasn’t felt, at times, blind rage? Most of us have thrown things or broken things while angry. Others of us have assaulted someone in anger. Imagine if all of us had easy access to an assault weapon at such moments?

While most of us have the maturity and impulse control to answer that we would never shoot someone, many can think of people we know, who are not mentally ill, who don’t. Most average teenagers don’t develop consistent control of their impulses until they are in their twenties, studies show.  Their emotions are volatile and unpredictable, and their judgment is often questionable. If you add to that a history of isolation, neglect, and/or bullying, a toxic brew is possible.

In another era, or another country, these young men might have resorted to vandalism, or, at worst, suicide. Of course they need access to mental health facilities. But they can be prevented from acting out violent fantasies by denying them access to guns. And the mentally ill, already one of our most marginalized populations, should stop being blamed for our politicians’ delusions.

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  • Jessica Heriot, Ph.D. March 1, 2018 at 11:38 am

    There have always been and there will always be mentally ill people, most of whom are not violent. It’s the access to guns that is the problem.

  • Grace Graupe-Pillard March 1, 2018 at 9:25 am

    Thank you for this article which I shared on Facebook.