This week, America witnessed once again what the darkness and senseless violence of what a mass shooting looks like. And as the ink spilled across the front pages, telling the nation about the latest dark tale, the familiar aftermath, the tragically familiar conversations once again began to take center stage. And what is never said loudly enough during these conversations is that mental illness is not the smoking gun that explains these tragic mass shootings.
Too many politicians and policy makers try to argue that guns aren’t the problem, but rather that this is really a mental health crisis. Why, these people ask, would anyone commit such horrors if they weren’t mentally ill. And in so doing they do such a disgusting disservice to their constituents. Because the truth is that 1 in 4 individuals will experience mental illness at some point in their life. However, 1 in 4 people do not commit these acts. We may not understand what could compel one person to commit such horror, but not being able to understand something does not make it mental illness. And what is so disheartening about this falsehood that so many people spread around is that it is just another level of victimization experienced by those who are mentally ill. Because in reality, those who live with mental illness are more likely to be the victims of mental illness, not the perpetrators.
Those who throw around this misinformation notably do so without evidence. They can’t because frankly the evidence clearly points in the other direction. Those who throw mental illness around as a reason do so because they often are so unwilling to face the merits of gun control legislation. And because those with mental illness are, unfortunately, bad at advocating for themselves and often unable to correct the record. So instead, those with the megaphone portray them as monsters.
I’m not here to weigh in on what gun control measures are or aren’t worth trying. While I do have plenty of opinions, this blog is not about gun control, but rather about advocating against mental illness victimization. Because too few people are doing that. Too few are speaking out about how wrong it is to blame mental illness. Too many are, in the interest of the fair exchange ideas, allowing misinformation to be spread without loudly calling it out for the falsehood it is. Instead of looking at the actual problem, they look at red flag laws.
Red flag laws, for anyone who doesn’t know, would allow the police to temporarily confiscate guns from individuals who have a past history of crimes or past diagnoses of mental illness. The problem with this is that the background checks that occur when one buys a gun almost never actually see mental illness because such information is protected by HIPAA, as it should be. The only time mental health treatment would appear on a background check, is if there is court ordered mental health treatment, which a lot of times would already appear on the background check without the red flag laws. Instead, suggesting that mental health treatment should be flagged on background checks is just one more painful step solidifying the negative stigma that mental illness.
It is beyond tragic that these terrible events keep happening, and is utterly exhausting having to repeatedly speak out about the fact that mental illness is not the danger that so many people mistakenly portray it as. Yes, we should absolutely devote more resources to mental health treatment, but not under the guise of gun prevention, because they are separate issues. And maybe, just maybe, if we can finally realize that mental illness is not the smoking gun that some want it to be we can start talking about actual solutions.