HomepoliticsMore to Mass Shootings Than Gun Rights and Mental Health

Today, I watched a great video about mental illness from Last Week Tonight with John Oliver.

There is a bit of adult humor, but it’s pretty mild.

This was made in reaction to the tired old redirection from gun regulation to the need for better mental health care in the country.

Too Close to Home
The day of that Oregon shooting started out with gunfire for me, too. At four AM, someone pulled up in front of one of our neighbor’s houses and opened fire.

At the time, we had no idea of where they were aiming, only that someone was firing a gun at something nearby. I, and no doubt other neighbors, called 911 to make a report as soon as I was awake enough to realize what happened.

In that case, no one was hurt or killed, but it could have turned out much differently. According to Minneapolis police statistics, our city alone has had 114 homicides between June and August of this year. I don’t know how many of those were gun related, but if the constant stories of shooting deaths on the news and the common sound of distant gunfire is anything to go by, it’s probably a good percentage.

So, news of the Oregon shooting had a more powerful, personal effect on me than usual.

by Tony Webster, via Flickr

If You Care, Why Don’t You DO Something?
That subtitle only sounds frustrated because I am. Most levels of this conversation anger me deeply.

It has always infuriated me when people in power derail the conversation by using mental illness as a scapegoat. The vast majority of those people then refuse to do anything to look at how mental illness is handled today, the vast array of how it effects people or how they can help.

What gets me is that these are people who CAN make changes in policy. They’re the ones who can influence funding, research and how facilities are run. So why don’t they use that power for something they supposedly care about?

It leads me to wonder if they care at all about their voters and the kids who must live through with undercurrent of fear every day.

How guns are regarded, regulated and handled must be addressed in this country. Believing it’s not a problem is an exercise in wishful thinking. Blaming these peoples’ actions on mental illness, however, does more harm than just avoiding a conversation about gun rights.

Why is it that the only time mental illness is brought up is in the aftermath of violent events?

As mentioned in many places, this does nothing more than reinforce the mistaken belief that those with mental illness are automatically dangerous. While yes, there are certain disorders that could cause violence, the vast majority of mental illness has nothing to do with hurting others.

Do you want to learn more? Here are a few fully cited facts and figures about mental illness in relation to violence.

There’s also the fact that the topic of mental illness is dropped as soon as the next big news story comes up. How many of these people who preach for better mental health resources actually bother to look into what’s available and what needs to be done?

As John Oliver said in regards to the mentally ill folks constantly forced into the role of scapegoat, “The very least we owe them is a (bleep)ing plan.”

You know what? That’s true.

Reforming gun control and the mental health systems are only two parts of a wider problem. Since the conversation only tends to focus strictly on those two topics, it’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking they’re the only two factors.

Humans are social creatures, and that means nothing we do happens in a vacuum. Every single one of our decisions is somehow influenced by what we’ve heard, seen or otherwise learned from other people.

While that’s a great thing more often than not, that fact has a dark side, too.

Off the top of my head, I can think of at least two shooters who were upset by the fact they didn’t have girlfriends, or that women wouldn’t accept their advances.

Let’s take a second to think about why that enraged them.

For one thing, romance is prized above all other things in our culture. If you don’t have an “other half”, somehow you’re less of a person. This is especially true for women, but men feel that pressure, too. The difference lies in the blame.

If a woman is single, her first instinct may be to look at herself and wonder what’s wrong with who she is. However, these single men, and many others, blame the women for turning down their advances. They take no responsibility for their behavior, or bettering themselves.

And, because I’ll probably get this response anyway, “NOT ALL MEN” feel that way or act out in rage. There are enough who do, however, to demonstrate it’s a cultural problem, not a strictly individual one.

In the traditional romantic stories, the guy always approaches the girl and woos her into his arms. She then becomes an extension of him, rather than an equal partner. Women aren’t viewed as individuals, but as props or even servants.

Hah. That would not end well in our house.
by Graham Richardson, via flickr

When we break that mold, it tends to make people angry, especially if they feel their identity is threatened by it.

Is that the only cause behind shootings? Absolutely not. Is it a part of many of the motivations? Yes, it is.

These were frustrated guys who felt entitled enough to vent their frustrations on innocent strangers in the most deadly way possible.

Many also spoke of the fame and notoriety they craved, which casts a troubling light on how these stories are handled by the media.

While we should look for commonalities between the shooters, they shouldn’t get as much attention as the media constantly heaps on them. It’s not too hard to apply that same horrified glorification blended with capitalism to other problematic topics.

And let’s not forget the racism behind some of them. Historically black churches have felt the wrath of racist gunmen, as have Jewish centers. The fact so many (primarily white) people argued so fiercely against race being an issue, despite obvious racist opinions from the shooters, shows that racism is still a problem.

Then, there are prejudice-loving subcultures involved. White supremacists are still going strong, as are misogynists. There are forums they use to encourage and praise murder. Where does free speech end and hate speech begin? Why is there still so much hate and fear for these groups to feed on?

It’s 2015. Why are we still fighting the same old fights?

by The Conmunity, via flickr

The Most Important Part
What about the kids growing up under these constant threats? What kind of effect is it having on their developing psyches? How are we helping to mold them into our future movers, shakers and dreamers?

School should be a safe place to get an education. It should be a place of learning, both from academics and social situations. We have a generation of kids who may believe a threat of being shot is normal.

How is that in any way right?

Domestic shootings also have a profound effect. A young child lives in the house that was targeted in the shooting in front of my house. There are many other kids in the neighborhood.

They shouldn’t have to grow up under that persistent fear. If kids constantly feel as if they’re in danger, how can they concentrate on things like school?

It comes full circle to mental health. Constant fear, trauma and insecurity can and do lead to various forms of mental illness. Once these kids start manifesting symptoms, when they’re old enough to communicate, how many of them will get help? How many will hide their pain, for fear of being treated like a criminal?

All of these topics get ignored completely when mass shootings, and shootings in general, are reduced to only two potential causes.

Yes. We need better mental health care in this country. If you think it’s such a huge contributor to violence, and you care so very much, isn’t it about time you start learning and doing something about it?

Yes. We must also talk about and find some sort of solution to the issue of gun control. While mass shootings do happen in other countries, none are nearly as prevalent as they are here.

Let’s address these two issues, but let’s not forget everything else roiling around under the surface.

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