It’s been a weird couple of weeks for our country and for me, personally. It seems that the national dialog is debating whether stricter gun control or greater assistance to those suffering mental illness is the answer to end random gun violence.
In my mind, the answer is a resounding: Both.
Gun control, for me, is a pretty cut-and-dried situation: limit people’s access to guns and you’ll limit the number of people shot. Because I interpret the 2nd Amendment to refer specifically to the formation of a “well-armed Militia” to protect us nationally, I have no ethical or constitutional problem suggesting that the average person has no reason to possess any automatic weapons.
I really don’t want to debate gun control, though. I wish to examine mental illness.
It seems that everyone agrees a person would have to be mentally ill to commit some horrible act of gun violence. There have been suggestions (mostly from people who wish to divert attention away from the gun control argument) that the government needs to step up and take a more active role in identifying and treating those with mental illness.
My concern comes in the link between these two: Who decides who the mentally ill are that need treating in order to ensure our safety? Can we ethically detain someone (or medically treat them against their will) based on the probability that they might hurt someone.
Because the profile for these random killers is quite broad.
Jovan Belcher was a productive member of society, in that he had a steady (and well-paying) job and a family. He had, by all accounts, some issues with domestic violence of some sort previously and was targeted by an NFL program designed to provide counseling for couples having these types of problems.
Until he decided to repeatedly shoot Kasandra Perkins to death and then commit suicide in a very public manner, I’m sure very few people close to him would have considered him to be a serious risk for a murder-suicide.
In Oregon, Jacob Roberts was considered to be an average, likable guy who experienced some of life’s ups and downs. His friends described him as seeming a little off the day he decided to steal a gun and a whole lot of ammunition and run into a shopping center shouting, “I am the shooter.” We, as a country, seemed relieved that “only” two people were killed because Roberts’ gun jammed before he could kill more.
And then there’s Adam Lanza, the most recent and most notorious of the three killers. He apparently had life-long mental health issues, but there has been nothing to substantiate that he had personality disorder or that his mother was trying to have him committed. He was often described as odd, an outsider, or quiet.
Of these three men, which ones do you think the government would have had any authority to detain? And based on what evidence?
Do you know anyone who is quiet? A loner? Awkward in social situations?
Has there ever been anyone close to you who has argued–maybe even violently–with a significant other?
Have you ever talked to a friend who seemed a bit off?
And how many of these people have then gone on a shooting spree?
Most likely, none.
We all know people who are socially awkward or have lapses with reality. We’ve all had that happen to ourselves, from time to time. But there’s a large–and largely unidentifiable–leap from having a mental or emotional issue to being a killer.
I think I’m dwelling on this because of some issues in my personal life regarding mental illness. Without delving too deeply into the details, I can say that in the past week, a friend tried to commit suicide, a coworker left our company in a rather disturbing and unusual way, and I’ve been mildly stalked by a vendor who was unhappy with a review I posted about my experience with her.
All three of these have left me unnerved. I find myself questioning whether any one of these people is the next shooter. And then I wonder if my unease is because these people are all showing what might be warning signs of a future killer, or is it because they all have easy access to the kinds of weapons used to make a statement killing?
Ultimately, my fear focuses more on the easy availability of weapons designed specifically for killing a large number of people in a short amount of time rather than this collection of people experiencing some sort of mental distress. I don’t mean to diminish their distress, because it’s obviously very acute, but I think we, as a country, should look to limiting the means of mass murder first, then address the causes in the long run.