What is especially troubling about the predictable calls for gun control that come in the wake of every horrible tragedy, is that the more obviously insane the shooter, the more strident the attempts to place the blame on guns. It is almost as if people are afraid to admit that we have a problem with mental health issues in this country. It is a kind of willing blindness, comparable to the reactions of politicians who, when cities with already draconian and constitutionally questionable gun laws set new records for gang-related homicides (think Chicago, Baltimore, Washington, DC,) invariably place the blame on firearms, never on the breakdown of the family unit, or poor educational opportunities, or a complete lack of viable job options, or a societal construct that glorifies violence, or despicably corrupt, irresponsible, and self-serving administrations, or the too frequent combinations of those causes.
One could make an argument that anyone who commits murder, regardless of motive, weapon, or number of victims, clearly has mental problems, but in the case of the recent highly publicized shootings that have caught the public imagination, name one where the shooter or shooters were not clearly unstable to a greater or lesser extent, in one way or another. Columbine? Newtown? The Aurora movie theater? Charleston? Virginia Tech? The Gabby Giffords shooting? Yesterday’s WBDJ shootings in Virginia? Does anyone believe that any of the people responsible for these acts was sane? Technically, in the eyes of the law, where the definition is reduced to an understanding of the difference between right and wrong, perhaps they were, but who among us would have wanted to live next door to any of those people?
And yet, whenever any suggestion is made to do something about mental health in America, people immediately invoke their right to privacy. They cite the fourth amendment, even though privacy is not mentioned anywhere in the constitution and that amendment was intended to protect people from governmental abuse in the form of “unreasonable search and seizure.”
People cite the potential for abuse by health insurers and employers. But mental health is not the same as physical health; having diabetes isn’t going to be the propelling factor that makes you grab a weapon and slaughter your fellow workers. Being schizophrenic very well may.
Clearly no one can predict who is going slide off the deep end, but every time one of these shootings occurs, people come forward afterward to talk about what a looney tune the killer was, how angry or disturbed or clearly out of touch with reality that person was. After I was shot, people in the neighborhood, people who had lived next to my attacker in other neighborhoods, people who dealt with him in various work situations, all came forward to talk about how afraid they were of him, how angry and violent he was, how clearly dangerous he was.
Today’s New York Times and Washington Post both, predictably, railed against firearms, as if an inanimate object were somehow responsible, but neither of them, nor the Governor of the State of Virginia, nor the President, even mentioned the question of mental health. Is it politically incorrect to even hint that an angry, narcissistic, irrational man with a history of picking fights and holding grudges, might somehow be responsible for his own actions?
The Times, the Post, the Governor, and the President, and all the other usual suspects, have used this tragedy to repeat their call for expanded universal background checks, but if there is no means or structure in place for reporting aberrant behavior, what the hell good would expanded universal background checks have done? If no one voices their concerns, and if there is no way for legitimate concerns to be investigated, mentally unstable people will continue to be able to legally purchase firearms and commit atrocities with them.
People with mental illness shouldn’t have their rights trampled on, but neither should law-abiding gun owners.