Of Gun Violence and the Mentally Ill

Calling the perpetrator of a mass shooting ‘mentally ill’ is another way of saying ‘guns don’t kill people, people kill people’.  It is clear that anyone who comes to the point of killing dozens of innocents is by everyone’s lights, not right.  But calling them ‘mentally ill’ and simply ‘mentally ill’ does not go far enough.  The vast majority of mentally ill people are not violent.  Even fewer are in any way ‘deranged’.  A tendency towards violence may itself mean that a person is among the mentally ill, but that does not mean that the mentally ill are violent – much less deranged.

As someone who suffers from mental illness, it can be very difficult to determine what can be done to change the stigma but to go on living an honest life, while standing up for your rights and against the stigma.  But if there is any right that the mentally ill can concede, it is the infringement on their right to bear arms, in the name of peace. This may seem like a hopelessly paradoxical position to some who, under feelings of persecution or duress, believe that they are the ones that need protection more than anyone.  But a certain faith and intelligence must go far enough to overcome the fear and feeling of injustice.

Automatic weapons have no place among our citizenry.  They make violence too easy at critical moments and for anyone.  But those with mental illness can go further and be willing to give up firearms entirely, finding other, honest and non-violent ways to protect themselves.  In exchange, they should ask, as I have advocated previously, that there be a taxation on the sale and transfer of firearms, which goes to fund mental health care in our communities.  That seems the least society can do.

The Narrative Of Dontre Hamilton

Dontre Hamilton was a Schizophrenic black man.  A Starbucks employee contacted police, presumably for his aberrant – a.k.a. ‘mentally ill’ – behavior  when he was trying to take a nap in the park.  The first pair of cops to arrive on the scene thought he was not a threat and just wanted a nap.  When officer Manney arrived to the scene – a situation which he apparently didn’t know had already been covered by different officers earlier – he antagonized Mr. Hamilton.  Officer Manney eventually caused a situation by striking Mr. Hamilton and entering close quarters combat – only to lose and subsequently pull his trump card, the gun… shooting Mr. Hamilton an unbelievable fourteen times.

This is not a matter for party politics.  Democrats – much less Socialists, much less Communists – do not own the high ground on this matter and neither does the Right.  This is matter of basic decency and understanding of the existence and legitimacy of people not like ourselves.  However, I did attend and spoke up at a forum on gun control, where Hilary Clinton was the lead figure.  I reminded the crowd that Mr. Hamilton was Schizophrenic in addition to being a black man.  It is fair so say that Mr. Hamilton’s being black and his being Schizophrenic, may have both contributed to the bias which officer Manney brought to the situation and led to the escalation which could have so easily been avoided.  But it should not be lost among the wave of ‘Black Lives Matter’ that Mr. Hamilton was Schizophrenic, and the Starbucks employee was likely not a racist.  Among all the torrential political spin, it must be said that Mr. Hamilton’s Schizophrenia was part – even the most prominent part – of what led to the injustice of his being shot.  14 times.

I suffer from mental illness and though with age and understanding it has become easier to deal with, it is quite clear from my own experience that the mentally ill are and will remain under greater scrutiny by law enforcement and homeland security.  At the forum I said that what the mentally ill need most is hope and opportunity in the face of what can feel like persecution.  In exchange for this scrutiny and infringement of liberties – and subsequent undue social resistance among the general public – they deserve the chance, with time, healing, and understanding, to be heard.  In addition to efforts to stop mental illness altogether, this is the least we can do for those who have suffered and endured without causing social harm themselves.

At the forum I also insisted that the mentally ill should not own guns, as it only puts the mentally ill in a more difficult situation should there ever be an incident.  But the case of Dontre Hamilton shows that officers of the law too must do their part to make it clear that the mentally ill do not need them.

Why Treating the Mentally Ill as Suspects is Counter Productive

The mentally ill need care, not suspicion. Yet a visit with your therapist can occasionally feel like an interrogation as they try to cover their backs from the unknown. And it’s not like their performance goes undetected. The mentally ill are simultaneously some of the smartest people in the world; though they may be treated as minds of inconsequential validity, rest assured that they are observant and capable of unwanted inference. How to treat such talent while protecting society – that is a very difficult balance.

The foremost indicator of future violence is past violence, but all too often people are buried under suspicion without any past violence at all. Should there be a need to put someone under suspicion for their condition, it must be the result of an evaluation done without suspicion, since suspicion on the part of the doctor leads to fear on the part of the patient, which leads to suspicion on the part of the system. Once there is suspicion on the part of the system, it is often too late for a patient to lead a normal life, for they will face an uphill battle for most of their lives.

It is a fact that mass shootings put more power in the hands of psychiatrists, and these psychiatrists are not blind to the scrutiny they will face if – albeit a remote possibility – a terrorist slips their grasp. But we should not ignore the fact that mass shootings make up a relatively insignificant portion of the death rate, despite their sensationalism, and a far greater number of lives are lost to scrutiny than death by bullet – though their stories remain untold.