False Blame Placed on Mentally Ill During Gun Debates

Franklin students hold up signs at walkout. Many politicians cite mental illness as the root of gun violence. Photo by Sydney George.

After the recent shooting in Parkland, Florida, the students of Stoneman Douglas High School took no time in asking our government and political leaders how they were going to take action in this national crisis. So far, the response has been overwhelmingly avoidant, and a multitude of excuses have been made (as expected) by many Republican leaders, with the most popular excuse being that mass shootings are a “mental health” issue. This is a demeaning reaction of pointing fingers and blatantly evading the real problem: guns.
Research and studies made by the American Psychiatric Association (APA) show that mass shootings are not linked to mental health. The shooters from Sutherland Springs and Vegas shootings both showed no prior warning signs, but even people like the Florida shooter, who did show warning signs, often do not have a diagnosable condition that allows them to receive treatment. According to the APA, a mere 3 percent of violent acts in the US are committed by individuals who are diagnosed with mental illnesses, and even fewer are involved with a firearm. In a study conducted by the APA, 144 people had threatened some form of violence on others, of which eight subjects had intentions of mass murder. All eight individuals said to have plans of targeting a specific group of people that they had grievances with. Ultimately, the study suggested that anger and resentment were far more common causes of shootings than mental illness.

Politicians saying we need to be better at treating mental illnesses contradicts a lot of what they have said about healthcare in the past. Dating back to the 90s, the National Rifle Association (NRA) has paid over 2.4 million dollars for the Center For Disease Control to limit the studies they complete on mental illness and gun violence. Obama tried to have this decision repealed, but ultimately failed due to the NRA’s high control in politics. President Donald Trump’s budget cuts mental health funding, and just last year Trump approved a rollback of an Obama regulation that prevented people with mental health problems from buying guns. Trump has even made his thoughts clear on Twitter: “So many signs that the Florida shooter was mentally disturbed, even expelled from school for bad and erratic behavior. Neighbors and classmates knew he was a big problem. Must always report such instances to authorities, again and again!” In a televised address at the White House, Trump said his administration would help “tackle the difficult issue of mental health.” Despite verbalization of his belief that mental health was to blame for the shooting, his rollback on mental health regulations surrounding guns directly contradicts this sentiment. He later said the issue of improving safety in schools would be the top priority during a meeting later this month with governors and state attorney generals. He didn’t mention the word “gun” once.
If mental health truly is the cause of these huge mass shootings, then the next step would be giving more support and funding to Americans with mental illness.

The truth is, so many Americans today struggle with some type of mental illness. This raises a few questions: which illnesses should be banned from purchasing firearms? How do we define those illnesses? Who diagnoses them? This creates a whole new problem that politicians have to consider.

Franklin psychology teacher Bill McClendon comments on the issue: “It’s easier for the politician to say it’s the individual and not the situation. It allows them to steer the conversation in a direction to talking about a person,” he said. Going more into depth, what McClendon is suggesting is a psych term called fundamental attribution error, which is essentially that in contrast to interpretations of their own behavior, people place emphasis on characteristics of the individual rather than external factors.

Another option brought up by politicians was arming teachers. Examples like University of Texas tower shooting showcase the flaws in this plan. When the shooter began to open fire, Texas citizens ran home to get their guns, and came back, firing at random at the threat. This threw police officers off and made the situation more complicated than it needed to be. The process of arming, training, and paying to have teachers carry firearms would just be another immense task our government doesn’t have the time or money to do. Overall, it would cost up to $666 billion each year to train and arm each teacher and to raise security at each school in the US. Plus they would have to somehow regulate, coordinate, and enforce all of this.

No one needs a semi-automatic. The only place a gun with such a high caliber should be is on the frontlines of a war zone, based on its only purpose: to kill. No kid not even old enough to buy a beer should be able to walk into a store and come out with an AR-15.
The last option: a reinstatement of the previous “assault weapon ban,” which briefly existed from 1994-2004. This law would ban the sale of certain rapid-fire weapons as well as magazines full of ammunition. This 10-year ban was passed by the US Congress on September 13, 1994 following a close vote in the Senate and signed by then president Bill Clinton the same day. Several constitutional challenges were filed against provisions of the ban, but were rejected by reviewing courts. There were multiple attempts to renew them, but they all failed. Obviously it would not prevent people from buying guns altogether, but it would make it harder.

With only excuses and insensitivity to follow “thoughts and prayers,” the country is more divided and angry than ever before. The division is worse because today the side that opposes gun control is funded by the wealthy and overpowering NRA. The question still follows, how long and how many more mass shootings have to occur before politicians say enough?

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