Tuesday, 27 March 2018

What problem are we solving? – Guns and Mental Illness Part 3

This post is part of a series.  Part 1 is here. Other links will be added to Part 1 as they’re published.

Before we go too far down the road of targeting mental health as a means of solving gun violence, perhaps we should investigate whether it’s actually the root cause.  From everything I can tell, it’s not.  It’s a tautology to say that *something* has gone wrong in the head of someone who commits mass murder, but that doesn’t mean they have a mental illness.  It’s equally possible for them to simply be a selfish, or angry, or violent person who is perfectly sane.

While there are mental health issues that can mean a person should not have access to a gun, that doesn’t mean that everyone with a mental illness is a danger. In fact, people with mental illnesses are more likely to be victims of violence than to perpetrate it, and when they do, it’s mostly suicide. (I’m all for preventing suicide, but we have to acknowledge that the dangers are different.)

Mass shooters are pretty much uniformly white males, the demographic group with the best access to mental health services. The ones with the worst, black women, aren’t out there shooting up schools and concerts.

Following along with that, mental illness exists in Japan, Australia, Great Britain, and all these other countries who don’t have mass shootings.

We need better mental health care, and we should take steps to make sure that people who are actively homicidal or suicidal can’t access guns. *But* scapegoating mentally ill people not only harms an already marginalized group, but it also ignores large parts of the problem.

So, once we’ve kept guns out of the hands of mentally ill people, many of whom have never and would never hurt a fly, what are we doing about the next mass shooting by an angry white guy? I mean, you could make a compelling argument that toxic masculinity and white entitlement are mentally unhealthy, but those sicknesses exist at the cultural level rather than the individual level. Are we addressing any of that? Are we addressing the fact that domestic violence is a much better predictor of someone becoming a mass shooter than a mental health diagnosis is? Or are we scapegoating people with mental illnesses and calling it a day?

And let’s pay attention to the fact that we are scapegoating people with mental illnesses.  That stigma already exists.  People already face rejection, fear, and stereotypes when anyone finds out that they’ve got a mental health diagnosis.  When we paint mentally ill people as a shooting spree ready to happen, we only add to that.  And that stereotype isn’t even true.



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