The Gun-Mental Illness Distortion


Attention people with mental illness: Since “mental illness” has become synonymous with violence, the nearly 58 million of you should surrender your guns ASAP!

Yep, that’s pretty much what it feels like. Talk about gun control is everywhere; the NY Daily News cover referring to the US Senate as a “Slaughter House” following the failed gun control vote, the pro-gun Texas mother who shot her two daughters to death, the Orlando Massacre, UCLA. And on and on. You can’t turn on the television, read a magazine, or go online without some mention of it. Oh, and don’t forget the multiple “expert” viewpoints. Talk of gun control has now become about as ubiquitous as the weather report (and in many cases just as accurate.) And what’s the driving force? Mental illness. Yes, “scary” mental illness.  Keep the guns out of the hands of the “mentally ill.” Well, if we’re going to have this conversation as a country, then perhaps we should look at the issue objectively. So let us examine both sides of the coin, shall we?

In this corner we have the 2nd amendment. As US citizens it is our right to own a gun just as much as it is our right to have freedom of speech or freedom of religion.  The argument that our nation’s forefathers were referring to muskets and not an AK-15 is about as relevant as the fact that they were referring to revolutionary political speeches and printed text, not tweets and Facebook status updates. Times have changed; technology and people have evolved, therefore our interpretations of our Constitutional Amendments naturally have to evolve with it. With the right to protect and defend ourselves comes gun ownership. The overwhelming majority of arms supporters are cautious, diligent about gun safety, and don’t go around committing mass murder. If you look at incidents involving guns that are legally bought by someone with a weapons permit and firearms training, the number is incredibly small with most instances used in self-defense such as home invasions.

So where DOES the majority of gun violence occur? Well, it lies in the hands of street gangs, illegal gun sales, and individuals who know nothing about or do not practice gun safety. If we examine the handful of mass murderers who may have obtained a gun legally, the number is so small it cannot possibly  represent the entire gun-owning population. Now don’t confuse my comments on gun-ownership with diminishing mass murder. I am not. Sandy Hook and the Orlando are two examples of the most harrowing days I can ever remember. Incidents where innocent lives are lost have left holes in their respective communities and our nation. They have impacted everyone, myself included. But if we’re going to get riled up about guns, then we need to go after those who are committing violence everyday such as in Chicago where parts of an incredible city appear like a war zone.

Now in this corner, we have mental illness. Sadly the public hasn’t been well-educated on what this term actually means. The media have instead turned this term into a sort of boogeyman. Mental illness refers to any disorder in which the brain is unwell. This can be biochemical challenges, physical or emotional trauma, and/or environmental triggers meaning how a person responds to events such as grief and stress. There are currently over 450 mental illnesses ranging from autism to anorexia to bulimia, depression, anxiety, PTSD, bipolar disorder, among countless others. Research has shown us that between 1 and 4 and 1 and 5 adults experiences some form of mental illness in a given year. Of the nearly 320 million people in this country, we are looking at 58 million individuals. 58 MILLION! Of those who seek treatment, 90% will live healthy, successful, productive lives. The remaining 10% do struggle with suicide, job loss, homelessness or petty crime.

Of all the gun violence that has occurred in this country, only 4% is committed by individuals with a mental illness. That means 96% is caused by mentally healthy people. Research has repeatedly shown that individuals with mental illness are less likely to harm another and more likely to be a danger to themselves (cutting, self-harm, suicide). Yet, society repeatedly blames mental illness for gun violence.

Why do we look at a few evil, horrible people and consider all gun owners bad?  Why do we blame an entire demographic and judge them on a minutiae of awful, radicalized individuals? This goes for any race, religion, sexual orientation or gender.  Like the song says, “One bad apple, don’t spoil the whole bunch.” (please note: first and only time I will ever quote Donny Osmond) Mental illness needs to be viewed this way as well. We have heard that the Sandy Hook, Aurora and Virginia Tech shooters all suffered from a mental illness (the media hasn’t really reported on what specific illnesses each of them had) and it has been stated that the Orlando Shooter also may have been “bipolar.” Since bipolar disorder does not include mass murder, terrorism, and hate crimes as any of its symptoms, I’m not sure why so many are using this as a source of blame. Yes, he obtained his weapons legally, however he WAS reported by a responsible gun shop owner when he tried to purchase armor. We should be talking about whoever in the FBI let that one go.

Let’s stop blaming gun control. Let’s stop blaming Mental illness. Let’s stop blaming entire populations of religion, race, or culture. Let’s blame the individual. We should not try to justify something that is not justifiable. Yes, I believe that we have to keep guns out of the hands of those who are dangerous.  Yes, I believe we need to start treating mental illness like we treat any other disorder and yes, I do believe that there are just bad people in this world.  However, the majority of us are good, loving, law-abiding citizens who look out for each other with compassion and understanding. Let’s end the finger-pointing and if we need to revise legislation to reduce or prevent atrocities from occurring, then let’s make sure they are fair and well-thought out.

Posted on Buzzfeed 07/06/16

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