On June 26, 2014, a 24-year old man in Fargo, ND, Christopher Hampton, picked up a legally-owned gun and shot his cousin, 28-year old Randall Doehner, dead. The two shared an apartment, they had been arguing about something or other for some period of time, and allegedly Doehner pulled the gun on Hampton, but then Hampton grabbed it, pulled the trigger and is now serving time. In the several days prior to this murder, Hampton visited no less than four medical clinics, complaining each time that his cousin was trying to poison him although blood tests didn’t reveal any toxins in his system at all. Hampton also admitted that he had stopped taking meds that had been prescribed for a diagnosed case of mental illness, in this case bipolar disorder which also led him to have paranoid delusions aggravated by his use of amphetamines and marijuana now and again.
Now if you were to ask Donald Trump, or Wayne LaPierre or any other Gun-nut Nation noisemaker what needed to be done to prevent shootings like this from occurring, they would immediately answer: “We need to fix the mental health system.” Except that’s no answer at all. Because what killed Randall Doehner was not the fact that his cousin had gone off his psychotropic medicines – even the cops who interviewed Hampton several hours before the shooting thought he was behaving a little nuts; what killed Randall Doehner, plain and simple, klor aun pshut, was access to a gun.
With all due respect (and I really mean it) to the dedicated work and caring of people in the mental health community who labor endlessly to try and prevent people with mental illness from harming themselves or others, I happen to think that connecting mental illness to gun violence often results in playing the Devil’s own game. And what I mean is that the gun violence prevention (GVP) community should take care to make sure that it doesn’t find itself aligned on any issue with the bunch who represent the other side. And I say this because I have been listening to the other side for more than fifty years (I have been a member of the NRA since 1955) and their views on gun violence not only are never drawn from anything remotely representing evidence-based facts, but their arguments increasingly depart from even a shred of reality, no matter what aspect of gun violence is being discussed.
Here’s John Lott’s comment about Obama’s Executive Order which required the Social Security Administration to furnish the names of people receiving mental illness disability payments to the FBI: “My elderly mother has given my sister power of attorney to handle her finances. But computer illiteracy and inability to pay bills online shouldn’t mean stopping my mother from defending herself.” But the issue isn’t whether John’s dear old Ma should be able to pick up the old six-shooter even if she can’t turn her computer off or on. The issue is the stupid assumption that she can protect herself with a gun.
I would be willing to take a little seriously Gun-nut Nation’s most cherished belief that everyone would be safer if everyone was walking around with a gun, except that the idea has absolutely no basis in fact. It’s simply not true. And what makes the ‘armed citizen’ position even more shameful is that the same people who tell you that having a gun makes you safe, are the self-same people who vehemently reject any kind of mandated gun training at all.
I’m sorry, but the fact that the Supreme Court says Americans have a Constitutional ‘right’ to keep a loaded, unlocked handgun in their home for self-defense doesn’t mean that the GVP community should spend time, energy or money trying to figure out how to help folks have legal access to guns. Let the other side worry about that; GVP’s job is to reduce gun violence and the only way this will happen is when there are fewer guns.