Our country’s gun laws are ridiculous. That, for example, civilians can rather easily get access to war weapons is unconscionable, even if it is covered under the 2nd Amendment (a dubious assertion; one that seems to miss the point: even if something is within your “rights” to do, are there not other, higher, standards by which to evaluate whether or not you should do it?).
But targeting people with so-called “mental illness” is absolutely not the way to fix them. I’ll be putting the phrase “mental illness” in quotes for the duration of the post, not because I question the suffering of those who experience mental and emotional distress but because the entire field of “mental illness” is an utter mess.
Our history has seen rights movements for nonwhite people, women, non-heterosexual people, and, to a certain and growing extent, animals. But one movement we have not seen at all is rights for those so invisible that even their “advocates” push for harmful policies: those labeled with “mental illness.” Have you noticed how perfectly acceptable it is to talk about “that lunatic” with a gun in Orlando? Or “the crazy person” who shot up Sandy Hook? The New Yorker even ran an article by a well-known author (Malcolm Gladwell) earlier this year explicitly connecting gun violence to Asperger’s/autism. Many of my dear friends are advocating for laws that would either temporarily or permanently ban those with “mental illness” from accessing guns, even though the bill contains ambiguous language regarding who determines/evaluates the mental-health status of potential gun owners.
This is discrimination. You know, the very thing many people are railing against pursuant to the Orlando massacre.
Those diagnosed with “mental illness” already have it rough. We are slapped with a label lobbied by activist groups or voted into existence by an elite group of mostly white men in white coats with deep ties to the pharmaceutical industry (so in this way, no, “mental illness” is not like physical illness – there’s actual biomedical evidence of physical illnesses whereas, despite the rampant popularity of the chemical imbalance theory, the same cannot be said for “mental illnesses”). This label lasts forever, mostly to create lifelong customers for drug companies, even though studies show that two psychiatrists agree on a diagnosis less than half the time, yet we are shamed for being sick for “so long” and “not being over it yet” (two more ways “mental illness” is not similar to physical illness: you don’t get “labeled” with cancer like it’s part of your personality or your choice or your fault and you don’t get shamed for being sick for a long time).
We are encouraged to “get help” even as the repeated implicit and explicit ways we talk about “mental illness” and violence creates fear and perpetuates stigma. As a side note, though, stigma is not the main reason people don’t “seek help,” I don’t think. People don’t seek help because, by and large, it either doesn’t exist in any accessible or appropriate way (for example, many psych meds or the withdrawal from psych meds (no, it’s not “the disease returning”) have black-box warnings that read “may cause suicidal or homicidal thoughts” yet it is always the “illness” not the “treatment” we blame) or this help is prohibitively expensive where it does exist. Many times, this “helps” comes at the hands of uniformed strangers with guns rather than caring friends with casseroles; forced/involuntary “treatment” (which is designed to break your mental and physical will to ensure compliance and is thus classifiable as torture) is advocated for by many people who otherwise champion human-rights issues like LGBTQ inclusion, racial reconciliation and an end to patriarchy.
And now, in the name of activism, rights, equality, and building a safer world, millions are – likely unwittingly – advocating for laws written so vaguely as to ratify deep discrimination that would extend way beyond gun control and put those diagnosed with “mental illness” ever more at the mercy and discretion of the state.
At least one of the gun laws that Senate Republications voted down for now explicitly aimed for the wrong target: people with mental illness are more likely to be victims of violence than perpetrators of it. The measure the House Democrats wasted a bunch of energy staging a sit-in to demand a vote on doesn’t target “mental illness” but the bills that do would have the same pro-surveillance, civil-rights-curtailing effect and yet every gun-control activist I have talked to talks about such prejudice and judgment as if people who suffer in mind and soul are not human and we must be protected from “them.”
“Mental illness” does not cause violence: hate and desperation do.
By all means, restrict access to guns, especially ones constructed for the sole purpose of the mass murder required in actual warfare. But until I see politicians staging sit-ins to end the slashing of social welfare programs, until I see people getting up in arms, so to speak, for an end to homelessness (equally as unconscionable as murder) and grinding destitution, until I see the political will to create economically, spiritually and relationally thriving communities, I’m going to continue to see the current push for better gun control as mostly ineffective, at best, and hypocritical, at worst. And it’s not because I want guns of any kind on our streets (I have been within range of two school shootings in my lifetime and am traumatized). It’s because I want there to be no more reasons for people to want them.