Yesterday was the final day of Mental Health Awareness Month, and I have a lot on my mind. I had already written a blog about mental illness, which I wasn’t able to post because of a technical issue; the following day, 19 children and their teachers were murdered and several others wounded. Suddenly everyone was blaming “mental illness” and I knew there was more to say.
MENTAL ILLNESS DID NOT CAUSE THIS SHOOTING. EVIL caused this shooting. A hateful, entitled mindset caused this shooting. We MUST stop blaming mental health issues for our society’s addiction to violence or the bad guys will win.
Every single country on Earth has mentally ill people. Only ONE country has repeated and constant mass shootings by civilians, and it is us. Wouldn’t it stand to reason that in other countries we’d hear about “mentally ill” people committing mass murder at this rate using, say, knives or hammers or other weapons? Yet we don’t.
Something is different in the U.S., and the sooner we get that through our collective heads, the better.
Since the Uvalde shooting one week ago today, there have been SEVENTEEN mass shootings! Don’t believe me? Google it. They’re barely making the news anymore. Here’s a chart with a list, but it hasn’t been updated since 7:00 this morning, so I’m sure by the time you read this, there will be more:
In what other country do civilians routinely massacre one another and would we refer to such a country as “civilized?”
Even in countries that have more access to guns, there is not the level of mass civilian shootings that we have here. Also, most other countries don’t allow civilians to own high powered AR-15s or other weapons of war. There is no reason for a civilian to have such a weapon. As a culture we must demand sensible gun laws.
While our extremely liberal gun laws are clearly getting people killed, the access to these weapons by immature, angry people, even children, indicates a society that has spiraled out of control. Irresponsible gun ownership, glorification of weapons and violence, and hateful political rhetoric all play a role, and we must act. Not by vilifying people with mental illness, but by removing these dangerous weapons from the hands of people who would use them to commit bloody massacres. Where is the screening, vetting, or training? In an average year, according to Everytown.org, 544 Oregonians die by guns. This is preventable.
So let’s talk about mental illness. Based on statistics, only 3-5% of violent acts can be attributed to people with a serious mental illness. In fact, they are over ten times more likely to be VICTIMS of violence, partly because their illness makes them more vulnerable and less likely to be believed. Psychosis does not equal violence. The problem is NOT mental illness; it is our society’s worship of violence, and the easy means to commit it.
By focusing the blame for shootings on people with mental illness, we conveniently overlook the fact that many of these massacres are premeditated and very organized; they have told people what they were going to do, bought the weapons, and planned ahead meticulously. Does this sound like the actions of an “out of control” mentally ill person? No, they are TERRORISTS.
The shooter in Uvalde, Texas spent the eight days after his 18th birthday amassing his murder weapons and over 1600 rounds of ammunition. Nobody raised an eyebrow at this. He announced his plans to people in Facebook Messenger and nothing was done. Why is it that he is too young to drink a beer, barely old enough to be trusted with a vote or a military uniform, but he’s old enough to stockpile war weapons with no training, no background check, nothing? He wasn’t mentally ill; he was immature and angry and wanted others to suffer. So they did. Terrorist.
The white supremacist who murdered 10 Black people in a grocery store in Buffalo, NY posted a manifesto online that was not reported. Many other shooters have as well. These are pre-meditated murders by hateful people who have bought into extremist ideology. Terrorists.
By scapegoating mentally ill people and ignoring the domestic terrorism, we perpetuate MORE killings. We must take a hard look at how our culture fosters hatred and justifies violence. And it’s past time we remove access to weapons of war to people who are not military or police. Police officers in Uvalde were outgunned by one guy with a weapon that no citizen needs to have.
If someone has mental health issues, it’s already hard to ask for help. Imagine how much harder it is if you think people might perceive you as violent or dangerous because of your condition? How many people are ashamed, or worried about how they will be perceived by their boss, their family, their friends, their community? How many people are not safe admitting to depression, anxiety, or other mental health issues because people will think they are violent or unstable? HOW MANY PEOPLE TAKE THEIR OWN LIVES because they are too afraid of this sort of stigma to get the help they need in time?
We must talk about mental health. We must separate it from the violence in our culture. If we’re serious about saving lives, we have to be honest with ourselves. If we characterize people with mental illness as the monsters killing our children, that leaves the real monsters free to roam with impunity. It leaves more of our children vulnerable, not just to shooters, but to self-harm due to untreated mental health conditions.
It’s much more comfortable to imagine that nobody you know would ever do that, but all it takes is a quick online search for “school shooting threats” to see that it’s everywhere and it’s out of control. You hear about the deaths, but do you hear about the injuries and the threats that almost happened? Go look, I’ll wait here… search for School Shooting Threats
You might be in for a surprise, and if you think it can’t happen here, you’re dead wrong.
There was no “good guy with a gun” for those children in Texas. And no matter how brave our local police are, how many ALICE drills the school holds, or how many teachers have a gun, in a high-speed, high-pressure situation, kids will still die. How many kids are too many, and what are we willing to do to prevent this? Are we going to perpetuate a lie against people who are struggling with mental health issues, or are we willing to decrease access to murder weapons and address the mindset of hate and violence that got us here? Weapons manufacturers want you to believe this lie because they only care about their bottom line, not us. Do we fall for lies or do we confront them?
Your loved ones, your choice.