Mental Health and Gun Violence

In 1966, the US was in Vietnam, the Beatles were “more popular than Jesus”, and 14 people were killed by a sniper at the University of Texas in Austin.[1] The following year, President Lyndon B. Johnson spoke of how “senseless slaughter shocked the entire Nation. Yet, today, 13 months later, Congress has failed to enact a gun control law.” He referenced the 6,500 murders, the 10,000 suicides, the 2,600 accidental deaths that were enabled by lax gun control over those 13 months, saying that “a civilized nation cannot allow this armed terror to continue…the time has come for action.”[2] Fifty years later, fifty people have been killed in Orlando and there is outrage, shock, and learned helplessness.[3] It is learned helplessness to claim that American culture just doesn’t allow for gun control, to despair of ever passing the legislation needed to save some or all of the 89 lives lost to gun violence every day.[4]

Since his election in 2008, President Obama has delivered at least 14 speeches, 14 attempts to bring some sense to a nation reeling from senseless tragedy to senseless tragedy.[5] The first Ft. Hood Shooting, 2009; the Tucson shooting, 2011; the Aurora shooting, 2012: the Wisconsin Sikh temple shooting, 2012: the Sandy Hook shooting, 2012; the Washington Navy Yard shooting, 2013; the second Ft. Hood shooting, 2014; the Kansas Jewish community center shooting, 2014; the Charleston church shooting, 2015; the Chattanooga recruiting center shooting, 2015; the Umpqua community college shooting, 2015; the San Bernadino shooting, 2015; the Kalamazoo Uber shooting, 2016; the Orlando nightclub shooting, 2016. Did you make it to the end of that list? Did your eyes glaze a little, did you remember each and every one or did some of the names fail to ring a bell? Do you know how many have died in these 14 incidents alone? 174. That’s a large number, but there are larger ones. 869, for example, the number of people killed in the 126 mass shootings since the University of Texas shooting in 1966.[6]

Thoughts and prayers are not enough. Mass shooting, public outrage, short memories- this rinse and repeat cycle must not go on. There is a discussion to be had over mental health- good, let’s have it, and while we’re at it we can discuss how to prevent the mass shootings that are NOT the result of a breakdown in mental healthcare. Mass shootings like those in Orlando or San Bernadino, which were the result of suspected terrorists legally obtaining the weapons used to perpetrate their heinous crimes.[7] It is pure insanity that segments of the GOP would rather levy a ban on all Muslims coming into the US than prevent suspected terrorists (many of whom are not Muslim) from legally obtaining the weapons that have been used to kill hundreds of innocent Americans.[8] The debate over mental health as the cause of mass shootings is misleading, intentionally designed to draw your attention away from the other factors that go into these shootings. Factors like the simple fact that these killers are being enabled by lax gun control laws. The majority of those who go on to commit a mass shooting obtained their guns through legal means, and to suggest that this should just be ignored because fixing mental healthcare will fix everything else is playing with fire, playing with lives, playing with the truth.[9]

The truth is that if mental healthcare were a true concern of those who eloquently defend their second amendment rights via the exploitation of the mentally ill, crudely stereotyping a vulnerable population far more likely to be victimized than to victimize, there have been plenty of chances to push a pro-mental healthcare agenda.[10] 14 times President Obama has been forced to address yet another mass shooting, and 14 times, these champions of mental healthcare have had the chance to show how their rhetoric can be translated into action, into results. This has not happened, and will not happen, because while there is an appalling and absurd willingness to sacrifice the lives of fellow Americans to keep America neck-deep in guns, there is no similar desire to actually address the consequences that such a selfish, lazy, short-sighted mindset produces. Perhaps these champions are fully aware that mental health is not the problem, and simply want to prolong the charade as long as possible before fabricating new excuses. Perhaps they are not champions at all, and are simply reading the teleprompter as they struggle to get through yet another press conference following yet another mass shooting. If this seems harsh, it is no harsher than the reality that we are living in, a reality in which people with mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, are either unable or unwilling to do anything about an epidemic that continues to claim 89 mothers, fathers, sons, and daughters a day.

Mental healthcare is the problem? If so, we have a second problem- those too self-righteous to actually dirty their hands with solving the first problem. Unsurprisingly, useless pontification has served only to continue lining the pockets of the NRA and the gun manufacturers it has allied itself with.[11] However, isn’t it worth it to find out how we can actually curb this violence? There have been chances, many, too many, and mental healthcare has yet to show improvement as our mass shootings continue to increase in frequency and brutality. Let’s actually do something this time, and while we’re at it, let’s actually bother to find out if there is anything else we can be doing to save some of those 89 lives lost every day.

Does gun control scare you? Do you have nightmares about background checks, closed loopholes, suspected terrorists unable to buy hunks of metal used to kill fellow humans and fellow Americans? Because after Orlando, there will be 50 more families that have nightmares about lost children, absent parents, dead loved ones. No more second, fourth, or fourteenth chances, because we need to get this right now or see another mass shooting within months. Time is against us; we’re working with a timeline shortened every time our Republican Congress refuses to allow the CDC to research gun violence; truncated every time bought and paid for legislators fail to pass watered down gun control legislation that would expand online background checks or keep those on the terror watch list from buying guns.[12][13] Please, for the love of God and country and humanity, do not let President Obama make a 15th speech.

[1] “How Little Has Changed on Gun Control Since 1967,” last modified September 15th, 2014, http://time.com/3319341/obama-lbj-gun-control/

[2] “Letter to the Senate and the House Urging Enactment of Gun Control Legislation,” last modified September 15th, 1967, http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=28433

[3] “A night of terror,” last modified June 13th, 2016, http://www.latimes.com/nation/la-na-orlando-nightclub-shooting-ticktock-20160613-snap-story.html

[4] “Key Gun Violence Statistics,” last modified 2016, http://www.bradycampaign.org/key-gun-violence-statistics

[5] “14 mass shootings, 14 speeches: How President Obama has responded,” last modified June 12th, 2016, http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/2016/06/12/14-mass-shootings-14-speeches-how-obama-has-responded/85798652/

[6] “The math of mass shootings,” last modified June 13th, 2016, https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/national/mass-shootings-in-america/

[7] “How do you get denied a gun in Florida,” last modified June 14th, 2016, http://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-36522570

[8] “Orlando Shooting Reignites Gun Control Debate in Congress,” last modified June 13th, 2016, http://www.nytimes.com/2016/06/14/us/politics/terrorist-watch-list.html

[9] “How They Got Their Guns,” last modified June 12th, 2016, http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2015/10/03/us/how-mass-shooters-got-their-guns.html

[10] “Study Shows Mentally Ill More Likely to Be Victims,” last modified February 25th, 2014, https://news.ncsu.edu/2014/02/wms-desmarais-violence2014/

[11] “How The Gun Industry Funnels Tens of Millions Of Dollars To The NRA,” last modified January 16th, 2013, http://www.businessinsider.com/gun-industry-funds-nra-2013-1

[12] “Congress Still Limits Health Research on Gun Violence,” last modified December 8th, 2015, http://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2015/12/08/458952821/congress-still-limits-health-research-on-gun-violence

[13] “Senate rejects gun control amendments,” last modified December 3rd, 2015, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/powerpost/wp/2015/12/03/senate-democrats-to-force-gun-control-votes-in-the-wake-of-the-san-bernardino-shooting/