As yet another mass shooting by a young and allegedly disturbed man goes to prove, it’s getting to be a downright scary time to be mentally ill in America. Not only are the anti-gun lobbyists coming out of the woodwork and demanding that we get rid of the Second Amendment to keep guns out of the hands of people like you and me, but the calls for re-institutionalizing psychiatric patients are growing louder and more insistent with each occurrence.
I’m not going to hash over the gun debate, except to say that people don’t give up their Constitutional rights when they are diagnosed with a mental illness, and that we need wiser minds than those of our current government officials to decide how we’re going to prevent more Sandy Hooks and Columbines. I don’t trust the President or Congress to do the right thing here, not only because the political posturing that passes for debate is nothing more than big talk, but we don’t really know yet what the right thing is.
That leaves the sticky question of what to do with the millions of mentally ill Americans who have never committed, and indeed will never commit a violent crime, but who face social discrimination from all angles. There are so many degrees of illness, so many subtle ‘flavors’, yet all of them are labeled “bad” and “not us”. Society really isn’t too keen on making those distinctions because it is intellectually lazy and far too easily influenced by the mass media; it’s so much more convenient to consider the mentally ill as a monolith and deal with us on a one-size-fits-all basis.
There is, of course, a rather large problem with this view. For one thing, we are all different, and we have different illnesses which vary in scope and severity. Some people manage just fine on a low dose of antidepressant medication; others with more serious illness need intensive medication management and therapy; while still others can’t make it on the “outside” and must be hospitalized for their own protection.
But how do we know which individual is a potential Aaron Ybarra or a James Holmes? And is it ever OK to deprive someone of his or her rights as an American because of something he or she MIGHT do?
I say No. Not just because I’m mentally ill myself, but because no one should have to surrender their personhood OR their citizenship at the door to their psychiatrist’s office. Unless I woke up in China this morning, my condition is my own business and that of my doctor, not the media (unless I choose to disclose it, as I do here), and certainly not the government. I have broken no laws, nor do I intend to; why should I not have a gun in my house if I want one? And why ever would millions of Americans like me need to be institutionalized, as some of the more rabid reformers would have it, when we have proven ourselves to be stable and trustworthy enough to live in society?
There simply is no way to predict who will be the next mass shooter, and no legal way to prevent him (or her) from carrying out his/her scheme. The only thing we can reasonably be certain of is that there will be another…..and another…..and another after that. And sometimes, it won’t even be someone with a mental illness; after all, there IS such a thing as evil in this world, and it exists in humans. All you have to do is look at a Charles Manson or a John Wayne Gacy to see its face.
I wish I knew the answer to all this. But at this point, I don’t even know if there is one. All I know is that gutting the Second Amendment and locking up all the mental patients isn’t it. And I know that somewhere there exists a fountain of common sense, and that we must drink deeply of it if we are to have any hope of putting an end to these tragedies.