Is There A Connection Between Gun Violence And Mental Illness? That’s Not The Right Question To Ask.

Over the last several months, the intersection of horrific shootings and Presidential politics has once again ignited the debate over mental illness and guns.  After Sandy Hook, the pro-gun forces took the position that mass shootings could be stopped if we ‘fixed’ the mental health system.  In the wake of Roseburg, however, even that tepid (and meaningless) strategy has been abandoned by the gun gang and their Republican allies with Shlump Trump advising us that too many mentally-ill people “slip through the cracks.”  Meanwhile, mental health professionals and researchers continue to hold to the belief that, with the exception of suicide, that there is little, if any connection between mental illness and violent behavior involving guns.

shooter               What both sides seem to be saying is there’s no real solution to the problem of gun violence from a mental health perspective, because either there are too many crazies walking around or there’s no necessary connection between being mentally ill and using a gun in a violent way .  But deciding that a certain kind of behavior does or doesn’t reflect mental illness is one thing; understanding the behavior itself is something else.

If the evidence about gun violence tells us anything, it’s that using a gun to hurt yourself or someone else is an overwhelmingly impulsive act.  It is impulsive because in perhaps 90% of all gun violence, the shooter and victim not only knew each other before the gun was pulled out, but there had been continuous and angry or abusive contact between the two parties often for a lengthy period of time.  Obviously this is the case in gun suicides, which comprises two-thirds of all gun mortality; it’s true in most gun homicides, particularly for every gun homicide that grows out of a domestic dispute.  As for gun morbidity, which is so noticeable between the ages 15 and 25, most of the young men who present themselves in ERs and clinics with gun violence injuries previously sought medical assistance for other, less lethal injuries committed by the same assailants again and again.

Gun violence is not the usual way in which disputes are settled. In situations where two people get involved in a continuous dispute, four out of five of these arguments are eventually resolved violently or not – and here’s the critical point – without anyone pulling out a gun.  As Lester Adelson says in what remains the most brilliant article ever written about gun violence: “With its peculiar lethality a gun converts a spat into a slaying and an argument into a killing.”  But for every act of gun violence there are hundreds, no doubt thousands of spats and arguments that do not end up with someone being shot with a gun. And for the 20,000 law-abiding gun owners who use a gun to end their own lives each year, there are tens of thousands of seriously-depressed men and women who obtain counseling and assistance without ever thinking of taking out a gun.

Gun violence, particularly mass shootings, tears deep wounds in our cultural and emotional frameworks and shouldn’t be the subject of nonsensical and cynical sloganeering by entertainers masquerading as Presidential candidates who spend a few months on the national media circuit shamelessly promoting their names.  By the same token, those who are genuinely trying to do something to eliminate gun violence need to understand what is really at issue when it comes to defining a response to this national shame.

The word ‘impulsive’ means that someone engages in behavior without first spending one second considering the consequences of the act.  The good news is that nearly all of us learn how to express anger, even rage, without yanking out a gun.  Pardon the pun, but we still don’t know have a good fix on the trigger mechanism that turns violent behavior into gun-violent behavior. And if you want to yank out a piece, believe me, it will be there to yank out. Believe me.


Does The Oregon Shooting Prove That Gun-Free Zones Are Dangerous? Only If You’re Trying To Sell Guns.

It’s too early to tell what went off in the head of Chris Mercer that made him walk into a classroom in Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, OR with either three or four guns, then start a shooting rampage that left 10 dead and 7 wounded. In fact, since he was killed by police, we’ll probably never know.  But what’s the difference?  Just chalk one up for the folks who keep reminding us that the biggest thing we have to fear is not the violence caused by guns, but the violence caused by ‘gun-free zones.’

loesch                Megyn Kelly couldn’t get Donald Trump to appear on her show last night so she predictably called up Dana Loesch who couldn’t wait to tell everyone that she has renamed gun free zones ‘criminal protection areas.’  But of course Dana didn’t get out there quite as quickly as the self-appointed head of the universal CCW campaign, John Lott, who immediately posted the Umpqua CC campus security rules, which declare the school a gun-free zone.

Now that the gun industry has gotten concealed-carry of handguns to be recognized in just about every state, the idea that Americans should be able to carry a concealed weapon anywhere, anytime, helps push the ‘armed citizen’ argument to the next level, which is the stupid idea known as ‘constitutional carry,’ namely, that ownership of a gun entitles someone to carry it without undergoing specific CCW licensing or training at all.  The fact that most police officers don’t receive adequate training to help them determine whether a situation actually calls for the use of lethal force, never mind whether they can actually hit the target when they pull the trigger should not be of concern if we have all those armed citizens walking around who don’t need to demonstrate that they even know how to properly hold their gun.

The fact is that there is not a single, credible study which even vaguely shows any deterrent effect on the behavior of a mass shooter because he believes that the place he has chosen to commit mass carnage might have civilians walking around with guns. After Elliot Rodger’s 2014 rampage in Isla Vista that left 6 dead, John Lott went on Fox and declared that the manifesto written by Rodger was ‘proof’ that guns were a deterrent to mass shootings, because Rodger chose to stay away from locations where he knew that he would encounter people with guns.  The only problem was that Lott was lying, because Rodger specifically said that the guns he saw were being carried by police.  Which is exactly why we have police, right?

The GVP community is rightfully horrified by this latest act of gun violence which transforms what the Brady Campaign calls “a sanctuary for education” into “the latest memorial of victims lost to America’s gun violence epidemic.”  Everytown’s comment said, “Once again a college community has endured a tragic mass shooting.” Predictably, the White House called for strengthening gun laws knowing there’s no chance this will occur.

But what do we say if it turns out that the shooter legally acquired his guns?  How do we respond to people like Loesch and Lott who use these tragedies to promote both themselves and the ownership of guns? My response goes like this.  When I was a college undergraduate I had the good fortune to study with an economist named Paul Baran.  Educated in Germany, he came to the United States to escape the Hitler regime and taught at Stanford until his untimely death in 1964. With reference to the Nazis he once said, “a meaningful discussion of human affairs can only be conducted with humans; one wastes ones time talking to beasts about matters related to people.”

I think we waste our time trying to argue the moral imperative of gun violence with people like Dana Loesch, John Lott or Wayne LaPierre.  I don’t care how many gun nuts actually believe that good guys with guns stop bad guys.  Good guys don’t need to carry guns.