Whenever there is a mass casualty shooting such as in El Paso, TX or Dayton, OH, people invariably take sides. One side demands stricter gun control laws, while the other offers “thoughts and prayers” claiming “now is not the time,” and screaming about their Second Amendment rights.
For a brief time, the political right will promise to “look at” gun control, then shift to blaming mental illness.
Where did this mindset originate?
The answer lies in what has been considered the first mass casualty shooting when former Marine sharpshooter Charles Whitman murdered 14 people from his perch atop a clock tower at the University of Texas, in Austin. Prior to the shooting, Whitman had reported feelings of rage, confusion and having violent impulses. He was referred to a psychiatrist for treatment.
Following the incident, in which he was killed by Texas law enforcement, an autopsy revealed a pecan-sized tumor in his brain, which was cited as the likely cause for his violence. Despite this, people latched on to his psychiatric history as a reason for his murderous actions.
Thus, the image of the mentally deranged killer was born.
Sadly, this mantra has been largely supported by the NRA and gun advocates who rely on this reasoning to support their ill-informed position. This was embraced by President Trump following the Parkland shooting after meeting with NRA members and reversing his position in favor of stronger background checks.
Trump did the same following the El Paso shootings, shifting the focus from gun control to mental illness.The problem is that facts do not back this theory. In fact, studies have shown precisely the opposite. Those with mental illness comprise only 16 percent of the overall prison population in America yet, due largely to their erratic behavior, these individuals are three times more likely to be arrested. This is true even though 95-97 percent of all violent crimes are committed by those who are not deemed mentally ill.
Despite this, 48 percent of adult Americans associate mental illness with mass shootings; a stance the NRA is only too willing so perpetuate. They are hoisting a fraud upon America by pushing false information, or to use a saying often turned to by the political right, Fake News.
It’s long past time that we stop blaming mental illness. We need to remove that stigma so more people who need treatment get the help they need. And it’s time we stopped using mental illness as an excuse for violence, and put the blame where it belongs: on the NRA, the right and gun owners.
There are currently more guns than people in this country . So if you still believe that the mentally ill and not gun ownership is the problem, perhaps it’s time you were evaluated.