Guns and Mental Health

In the past when I’ve written on this topic, I’ve peppered every section and argument with links and numbers… this time I’m writing stream of conscious focusing on my thoughts and opinions. However, I’m more than happy to bring up numbers and facts if needed. Because if you have a different opinion, and this is going to be shocking based on this topic, but I welcome debate. Reasoned debate. Because contrary to what pretty much everyone believes on either end of the spectrum, this is not a black-or-white issue (and sadly, liberals who tend to find nuance and shades better than conservatives, are generally pretty fundamentalistly extreme on this topic as well). There is no easy answer, no matter how much one side or the other yells their opinion.

I’ve pretty much stopped being political or inflammatory on social media. It’s generally not worth it. And since the Oregon community college shooting last week, I’ve remained silent on it. Have not commented on the flood of posts that have come through my Facebook timeline, not shared any posts… except one. This one:

There’s a Way to Stop Mass Shootings, And You Won’t Like It

In short, banning guns in the US is nearly impossible, and likely won’t affect mass shootings anyway, banning “scary” guns won’t have an effect since most shootings happen with pistols, most shootings are committed by people who have no prior record and would pass/have passed a background check, are committed by people without a clinical history of mental illness and even so, do we want to have everyone’s mental health records open and searchable? His answer: pay attention to the loners and outcasts! (In brief.)

Then this morning on NPR, I listened to this interview with Malcolm Gladwell:

How Riots May Help Us Understand School Shooters

Also in brief, his theory is that the true psychopaths like Columbine’s Eric Harris already did the “hard part” of starting the movement, and what we have in the years since are disenfranchised loners steeped in a culture of Harris-worship following in his footsteps, with “the threshold that you had to cross to find yourself doing that has gotten lower”. It’s easier to be a follower in a riot than a leader. And the Internet has made it easier for these youths to want to follow in footsteps, regardless of how little the mainstream press glamorizes the shooters.

And then, what finally prompted me to want to say something, was watching last week’s “Last Week with John Oliver” where he had an otherwise fantastic and incisive piece on mental healthcare in the US, he lambasted anyone (focusing on idiot GOP politicians) who says the problem with mass shooting isn’t guns but mental health. Oliver compared bringing mental health into the discussion of mass shootings like vilifying Coke a Cola because it was in a commercial with Bill Cosby, implying gun control has everything to do with mass shootings and issues of mental health aren’t really connected except by association.

Now, I love John Oliver. Heretofore he’s not said pretty much anything I could disagree with. But that really set me off.

Here’s some information:

Over the last couple of decades, gun violence and specifically gun related homicide in the US has steadily decreased! It’s currently at some of the lowest rates it’s been in nearly 100 years. (Pause: Does the US still have a gun violence problem? Hell yeah. Can more be done to lower that? Hell yeah.) But, mass shootings have increased alarmingly. Which means we’re on the right path regarding what we’re doing as a nation on gun crime already (yes yes, more can be done), but on the wrong one regarding mass shootings. Why are mass shootings so different from other gun crime?

Another thing I saw recently, a lot of vitriol on Facebook about concealed carry on campuses, with comments implying the move would at best create random violence and at worst lead to more mass shootings, and bottom line, everyone is less safe! Two thoughts here:

Has the illegality of concealed carry on schools stopped mass shooters who illegally brought guns and illegally murdered people? Why would allowing legally carrying owners onto campuses increase more mass shootings, when someone who wants to mass murder is going to bring guns anyway?

It’s possible the increased chance that a shooter is going to be faced with a concealed carry citizen might think twice about their grand plan to kill as many people as they can until police finally respond. Maybe.

One of the biggest straw men arguments I’ve heard from anti-carry people is that concealed carry people are somehow more trigger happy and will a. cause more damage than they’d stop, and b. would be a distraction at best for law enforcement on the scene.

And then, they turn around and point to the fact that two people on the Oregon campus were concealed carrying, and didn’t run across campus to engage the shooter as somehow ammo (sorry) for their argument against concealed carriers. I’m at a loss to explain that once. In this instant we have two trained concealed carriers who wisely understood they would be a hazard to responding law enforcement and decided to stay in the classrooms they were in to protect their peers should they need to. Unlike the myth that concealed carriers are trigger-happy vigilantes, they showed restraint and care in their decision. It’s a no-win situation that reveals that most anti-gun liberals suffer from cognitive biases just as much as pro-gun conservatives.

Personally, I would feel safer knowing there could be concealed carriers around me.

Another tangent: What about open carriers? Well, in my opinion they’re generally idiots with some kind of chip on their shoulder and power issues. Especially people who carry around AR-15s and other long guns! God, what tools! Seriously!

Now, I can point to individual instances where a citizen has stopped a shooting or some other violence by being armed, like this Youtube video that shows a guy getting attacked by a machete-wielding vet with PTSD, who bashed open his apartment to try to kill him: The resident yelled at him he was armed, warned him, waited until danger was imminent (didn’t go shooting wantonly) then shot the assailant in the legs, wounding instead of killing. But then, I know someone can point out the recent story of a guy trying to stop a carjacking but accidentally shot the victim in the head and missed the carjackers.

I can point to the story of the guy who used a knife to kill or seriously would more than 20 people on a campus, or the entirely ignored by the press other Oregon shooting a few years ago of a guy opening fire in a food court until a concealed carry citizen drew on him, didn’t fire, and the would-be mass shooter fled and killed himself. And someone can show me the recent article of a kid who shot and killed a girl he didn’t like for not letting him pet her puppies.

We can trade individual stories for days on end. But it’s like arguing climate change: Someone can point to record snowfall, someone else can point to record heatwave, but these are all individual datapoints for trends. The trend: climate change is real. And, overall gun crime has fallen and continues to fall, while mass shootings goes up.

Back to John Oliver and his Coke can metaphor, what he (his writers) seem to ignore, a point most liberals ignore: There are over 300,000,000 legal firearms in the US. And nearly all of them are used legally and responsibly. Most gun owners never talk about their guns, never use them except for safe and intended purposes. The fact that a tiny percentage of guns in the country are used for evil is ignored for the point that any gun is used at all.

In closing, what I hate most is the constant cry that “Something must be done about gun control!” Okay, great. What? Tell me what? Most people either say, I don’t know (which is fine, but let’s maybe start thinking about it instead of impotently crying “Do something!”), or if pressed, think all guns can be banned. Personally, I appreciate the rare meme I see about comparing regulating guns like we do cars! Required tests, required insurance, required safety inspections, etc.

As a gun shooter and enthusiast, I’m also a rabid NRA-hater and I’m enthusiastically all for greater regulation and control! (Hey, rabid gun-lovers who wave the Constitution like a magic totem: The document itself states “well-regulated,” dick. Having to take classes, carry insurance, pass checks, register your gun, is not equivalent to “They’s takin our gunz!!”)… (yeah, I know, I just committed an ad hominem fallacy there, sue me.)

But greater control isn’t a panacea for gun crime and certainly not for mass shootings. Something else must be done (in addition!) And people like that blogger I linked to at the top, and Malcolm Gladwell, have touched on the root of the issue with young white male mass shooters: It’s not the guns, it’s not even entirely mental illness: it’s what we do as a society and what we value and how we treat all of us, even the least of us.

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