"The truth is, that our society is populated by an unknown number of genuine monsters. People that are so deranged, so evil, so possessed by voices and driven by demons, that no sane person can ever possibly comprehend them. They walk among us every single day and does anybody really believe that the next Adam Lanza isn’t planning his attack on a school, he’s already identified at this very moment? How many more copycats are waiting in the wings for their moment of fame from a national media machine that rewards them with wall-to-wall attention and a sense of identity that they crave, while provoking others to try to make their mark. A dozen more killers, a hundred more? How can we possibly even guess how many, given our nation’s refusal to create an active national database of the mentally ill?" (highlighted emphasis mine.)
|X-Men: Wolverine. Photo by Jeff Norris|
We mental health advocates have talked until we are blue in the face about how studies show mentally ill people are not violent and that not all mass shooters have a mental illness. As NAMI states "One in four American adults experience a mental health problem in any given year, yet the U.S. Surgeon General determined over a decade ago that 'the overall contribution of mental disorders to the total level of violence in society is exceptionally small.'" Do people not read scientific studies? Do they not believe them? I could write another post like my previous one about not assuming all people with mental illness are violent, but for the people who really need to hear it, they will never listen. (Read NAMI's official response to the NRA here.)
We actually already have limits around mental stability and the ability to buy a gun with the National Instant Criminal Background Check System where they do not allow guns to be purchased "by any person who has been adjudicated as a mental defective or has been committed to any mental institution." This is an attempt to identify people who might be a danger to themselves or others if they had a gun. However, it is hard to define what "mental defective" means and many people who have ben in mental institutions might be perfectly safe with a gun. I mean is there a time limit on this list because if you were in a mental institution when you were a teen and now you are 50 years old and have had no recurrence of your illness, are you still "a mental defective," for life? That seems unreasonable to me and just increases fear and stigma. I am not arguing that any list like this is not a good idea, just that we have to be careful how we implement it and we don't add to it language such as LaPierre used to misrepresent what mental illness really is.
And that is what I want to focus on for this post, that statements like LaPierre's which use labeling and hateful language just increases violence in our world, in particular more violence against a group of people who are already more likely to be victims of violence than the general population.
First of all, to me, the ultimate in violence is hatred and creating an us vs. them mentality. When we separate ourselves from all of humanity, saying we are different than another group of people, then we give ourselves permission to treat these "others" as less than human. Calling them monsters. Creating lists for them to make sure everyone can judge them. Casting them out and locking them up. Statements like LaPierre's encourage violence, oppression, stigma, and scapegoating.
Second, I feel like LaPierre's statement is a disgrace to the many people who own guns and don't act with such hatred and ignorance. I know many people who own guns for hunting or shooting at the range. My Dad used to go shooting once a week with his friends. I know parents who have the most fantastic kids ever, and they go shooting together. Guns are not something I would choose to have around because I think accidents can happen no matter how careful you are, but I do think there are many responsible and caring gun owners out there. None of these people would say such disgusting things about another group of people. LaPierre's statement is a bad representation of people who own guns and I hope that responsible gun carriers stand up against someone like LaPierre.
Third, statements like this, even if we don't end up with a database, once they are said, discourage many people with mental illness from seeking treatment because now we are branded as potentially being monsters, evil, and mass shooters. We know that most people do not understand mental illness enough, even many professionals, to be able to deem who might one day become violent enough to hurt another person. So no one, even people with mild depression or anxiety, is ever going to want to seek treatment when that might mean they are now seen the the eyes of our world as a monster. This means people are going to live in pain, fear, sadness, and never get help because they are scared that everyone will fear and hate them. Already people treat you differently once they find out you have a mental illness. LaPierre's statement, even though I assume he did not mean it to apply to every person with mental illness, was so broad and filled with vitriol and hate that it increased hysteria and has already made our world, with it's inadequate knowledge of mental illness, more unsafe for people like me.
As my eight year old son asked me "What would happen to you Mommy, if you were put on a list?" While we tried to explain to him that this probably won't happen and if I were on a list for gun control purposes, I don't even want a gun so it would probably not affect me, he knows that as soon as you are called out on a list as different and scary, you are at risk for violence.
I hope that more people speak up about the issue of using hateful language and increasing mass hysteria at times like these. I hope we talk about how wrong it is to promote the idea that violence in our country is always someone else's fault when really it is something that we all need to help take care of. We can't unjustly blame one group of people so that now we have a scapegoat whom we can persecute and harm.