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Gun Control and Mental Illness: Can We Prevent Another Tucson?

01.15.11

Jared Lee Loughner’s horrific decision to whip out a Glock semi-automatic handgun on a group of people in Tucson one week ago has caused the national conversation to examine our political rhetoric, mental illness, and gun control.

And just like I never called for more regulations on free speech in the wake of the shooting, I don’t see how banning semi-automatic weapons will make any difference.

A couple things that should be looked at, however are:

  1. How many bullets a cartridge should hold
  2. Screening gun-owners for mental illness

The former wouldn’t be too difficult to do once the law went into effect. The latter, though, opens up a whole new conversation — one that I’m not nearly educated enough on to provide some sort of recommended game plan. Suffice to say that there are a number of factors that would need to be addressed regarding mental health in America: how we treat those with mental illness, and then how to then create proper screenings to prevent those with out the capacity to handle a firearm from obtaining one.

It seems the the main issue is the lack of knowledge on mental disease in general. There’s a growing population of people who think that psychiatry is an evil practice — Scientology comes to mind, with their alternative being to pay them a fortune to have your alien ghosts cast out of you. Given the two options, I’ll go with psychiatry, thank you very much, but that’s a different conversation.

This is a factor for why many people just don’t understand mental illness — or even brain injuries (just ask how the Marines handle TBIs and you’ll see how much people think of them) — and those afflicted have a high chance of getting cast out of society because it’s such a taboo subject. When people mention someone having bipolar disorder or schizophrenia, its almost always in hushed tones followed by a long, dreadful “Ohhhh.”

People fear what they don’t understand; and, frankly, most of us don’t get mental illness. We mistake disease of the brain – the organ – with an ugly dimension of the mind, the psyche. As if those with mental disorders speaks more about the darkness in their souls rather than being something wrong in their body. The more we can study and educate, the fewer people will go untreated. And hopefully the fewer people will go off on violent rampages, all without having to restrict freedoms granted to Americans by the second amendment.

While I see zero reason for the average American needing to own a semi-automatic handgun, much less an unbalanced 21-year-old, since the only thing that weapon is designed to do is kill another human being, I also don’t see much good coming from banning them — those who want them would still be able to find them on the black market.  And if someone wants to unleash hell on a group of innocent people, they’ll find a way.

Or they’ll just pick up a cartridge extension:

Still, as a society, we should make it as difficult as possible and try to limit the carnage as much as we can.  I see the shrinking of cartridges to hold fewer bullets and the outlawing of clip extensions as a good compromise that would prevent a would-be assassin from being able to spray 30-plus rounds without having to reload without rendering them completely ineffective for those who wish to own them for self- and home defense.

Photo courtesy of jyoseph’s Flickr Photostream.

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3 comments

  1. I think you make some very good points in your post and sound like you are really trying to understand mental illness. As a sufferer of a serious mental illness myself, I know that the stigma surrounding MI is alive and well. I lost most of my friends during the first few months of my illness. I guess they didn’t like visiting a psych ward. Ignorance is a very dangerous thing, and it certainly applies to the subject of mental illness.
    I live in Canada and we have stronger regulation of fire arms, especially handguns. Like you , I don’t know why anyone would need one. I just want to note that Canada’s murder rate, especially by fire-arms is much, much lower than that of the U.S. I believe that is true of many other countries as well.
    But what’s the answer? Not allowing the mentally ill to own firearms would be good, but statistics show that the mentally ill are far more likely to be the victims of violent crime than the perpetrators. So more strict firearm regulation would likely decrease the violent crime rate by anyone.
    Increased services for the mentally ill is an absolute necessity and that goes for Canada as well. Many people simply do not have access to help. Community support is severely lacking and something must be done to get people help when they are severely ill.
    Anyway, thanks for not calling the mentally ill crazy, loonie, demented, nutjobs or any of the other derogatory names that people think it’s okay to call those with brain disorders. I guess we’re the last class of people to not be included in political correctness. Those with any other type of illness would not be subjected to such humiliating name-calling.


    • It’s so much easier to just dismiss those we either don’t understand or those who are mentally deluded as being nutjobs. It’s a way to marginalize them, dehumanize them, so that people can justify whatever comes to them even if it’s inhuman treatment.

      As for more strict regulation lowering crime rates for all, I’ve seen numbers that show that the numbers of violent crime would only marginally decrease. Which begs the question: “is it worth limiting our constitutional freedoms for it?” I’d say no at this point.

      I hope you are able to find proper treatment for your illness. And thanks for reading and your comments. There’s no simple answer, unfortunately. But educating people on this is a great start. I see you’re writing a blog, too, which I think is a fantastic idea. The more that you can relate your experience to people, the more we can try to curb these stereotypes and stigmas. Keep it up.


  2. Thanks for the encouragement, Ryan. I’ve never done anything like a blog before, so we’ll see how it goes. I’m surprised that the stats show violent crime would only be slightly affected by stricter gun laws. Too bad. There really is no easy answer.
    Diane



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