I tire of a particular argument that has emerged when gun violence happens: if we can’t act on guns, let’s focus on mental health. Once again, those of us with mental illness are appropriated for society’s catharsis — except this time, mental health advocacy groups like the National Alliance for Mental Illness have taken the bait.
How does this myth even emerge?
Pinning mental illness to those who commit mass shootings and other horrific crimes is commonplace in the US today. The stigma surrounding bipolar disorder and other ills remains extremely high, and it assuages communal fears that only a ‘crazy’ person would kill innocent shoppers or gun down a classroom of first graders. It isn’t our neighbor or co-worker (or ourselves) because they’re not mentally ill; they’re ‘normal,’ ignoring the reality that so many are or will at some point struggle with their mental health. You can see why mental illness is so readily tied to gun violence by the media, society, politicians, you name it.
And yet, the problem remains the guns.
These deadly weapons allow a single person to take out that classroom of first graders or the moviegoers or the innocent bystander or the police officer or the…or the…or the… Without the guns, the lethal capacity of an individual is greatly reduced. Sure there are other deadly weapons we hear pro-gun people say, but it’s much harder to create as much carnage in so short a time as these shootings happen with knife or baseball bat. Admittedly, some who commit violent acts have histories of mental illness, but acting upon their illness in destructive manners again becomes much harder without free-flowing weapons floating about.
Addressing mental health in the gun violence debate is merely ducking the real issue. It shouldn’t take mass murder for our society to provide affordable, accessible, high-quality psychiatric and therapeutic care for those, like myself, suffering from mental illness. That should be a reality already, gun violence or not.
So, if we’re going to address the epidemic of gun violence, let’s address the problem: guns. It’s not video games or a violent culture, it’s not mental health support or unsecured schools (what a term in the first place). These are aggravating factors, but they’re not the problem. It is guns and until we fix the gun violence issue in America, 30 or so people will be killed each and every day.
Do we really want to keep talking about mental health and all these other tangential side notes until it is our loved one or ourself gunned down while we simply go about our lives?