Another mass shooting has occurred in the United States, and as always the issue of guns has come to the forefront. These days, the bodies aren’t even cold before people start politicizing it. One side wants gun control; another wants to put guns in the hands of teachers and other persons in positions of authority…and still another wants to blame the whole mess on mental illness.
As a citizen who happens to have both a psychiatric disorder and a gun, I strenuously object to the latter. I didn’t leave my Second Amendment rights at the door to my psychiatrist’s office, and neither did the millions of other Americans who have depression, bipolar, and other mental health diagnoses. While there certainly are mentally ill people who shouldn’t have access to firearms, not every mass murderer is mentally ill, and not every mentally ill person is a potential killer. Far from it. I know I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating: we are ten times more likely to be the victim of a crime than a perpetrator. Just look at the crimes that are committed against the homeless, many of whom suffer from mental health conditions; in one U.S. city, for example, there is someone who’s going around killing homeless people for no reason. And they call us dangerous?
Part of the problem is that Americans are intellectually lazy and usually want to take the path of least resistance. We are stigmatized in this society, and of course the general public doesn’t want to deal with something it doesn’t understand. It’s all too easy to blame the world’s evils on people who are less able to defend themselves than others. And who really understands mental illness, anyway? Not even doctors and scientists really know what causes the brain to go haywire. No wonder there’s so little interest in funding mental health research…it’s just too complicated.
Me, I have other ideas. If I were in charge of making laws, I would require every state to have mental health clinics in all counties. People often don’t get help when they need it because they live too far away from psychiatrists and hospitals. I would make sure these clinics were fully funded and staffed (I know, I live in a dream world) and they had income-based sliding scale fees for services, thus increasing access to care. They would also take all insurances, even Medicare and Medicaid, and be available 24/7/365. In addition, I would make sure there were enough nurses to make follow-up calls to patients who have recently been in crisis or needed hospitalization in order to help decrease readmission rates.
But enough about my fantasy. I don’t believe preventing those of us with mental illnesses from exercising our Second Amendment rights is the answer to mass killings. Of course, I’m not sure what the answer is. Maybe—perish the thought—there isn’t one. Personally, I think efforts to ban guns would be better aimed at addressing social stigmas that isolate and marginalize people. How do we become better at including the loner, the rejected, the sick in our society? How do we learn to accept them as fellow humans, not something to be tossed aside like garbage? Has anyone ever considered that there might be fewer shootings if vulnerable people didn’t feel so alienated?
Just a few of my thoughts on this snowy Sunday, with the Olympics on in the background and my family sitting in front of a cozy pellet-stove fire. Life is good, but as recent events remind us, we can’t take anything for granted. Not our lives, not our souls…not even our freedoms.