The Darkest Tale and the Red Herring: Guns and Mental Illness

I am heartbroken. I am angry. And I am sure I am not the only one. 

I am heartbroken because this weekend, America witnessed the true horror of not one, but two mass shootings. These nightmares, and our nation’s epidemic of gun violence, truly are the darkest tales of this nation. 

I am angry because once again there are those who are saying that mental illness is to blame. President Trump specifically said, “mental illness and hatred pull the trigger, not the gun.” 

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Mental illness does not pull the trigger. Rarely is it even present during mass shootings. We need to talk about the real factors at play. Photo by Ivandrei Pretorius via Pexels.com.

No Mr. President, mental illness did not pull the trigger. No, Mr. President, hate and bigotry are not mental illnesses. This is a long drawn out falsehood, and one that needs to end. Because it doesn’t heal the wounded and those whose hearts are broken by grief, it only hurts those trying to heal from actual mental illnesses. 

It is no secret that as a nation, we are scared that we will be the next victims of these horrible acts. Peaceful town after peaceful town has been rocked by these hardships, to the point that no one is naive enough to say, “it couldn’t happen here.” And so, when mental illness is tied to these dark tales, it becomes a red herring and the innocent become suspects, making it far less likely that people will speak out about their struggles. Instead, they continue to suffer in silence as the real problem goes unchecked. 

Because the real problem is multifaceted for sure, but it isn’t mental illness. Statistics show that only about 22 percent of them have a diagnosable mental illness, or roughly 1 in 5. Of those 1 in 5, even fewer have been diagnosed in a way that would cause them to be caught by so called ‘red flag laws.’ Nor do I think that those who suggest mental health reform in the face of mass shootings are actually concerned about gun deaths due to mental health. 

Because another sobering statistic that must be a part of this conversation is that nearly two-thirds of all gun related deaths in the United States are death by suicide. Unfortunately, I don’t think the statistic alone is sobering enough. Because in reality that is an average of 22,274 suicides a year where a gun was used (according to Everytown for Gun Safety). Yet like the illness that killed them, these gun deaths pass by our politicians in silence, because they don’t gain the publicity of mass shootings. If lawmakers really wanted to save lives, they would talk about that. If lawmakers really wanted to save lives, America wouldn’t be a nation where it is easier to buy a gun than it is to access mental health care. 

Mental illness is a serious, potentially fatal illness. Guns play a part, but rarely is that part in the form of a mass shooting. Instead, those lost to guns are often those who die by suicide, failed by a nation that is too busy addressing mass shootings and the fake culprit that is mental illness. Even those who survive their mental illnesses are harmed, often forced to suffer in silence because of an incorrect narrative, one which only feeds the already harmful stigma surrounding mental illness. I pray this is the last time I have to devote a post about our nation’s darkest tale, and the red herring that some blame it on, but sadly I fear that won’t be the case. I pray that those who are ready to come out and share their battles aren’t batted back into silence by misleading statements made by those we’ve elected, but again, I fear that won’t be the case. 

Mass shootings are horrible, evil things. We can all agree on that. And the sooner we can agree that mental health reform, while a good thing in its own right, is not the solution to this evil, the sooner we can focus on real solutions. In the meanwhile, we need to foster a world where it is safe for our children to go into the world and where it is safe for those struggling with mental illness to open up about their battles without being feared or misunderstood. We have the capability, but such a reality will only be realized if and when we stop pretending that mental illness is the root cause of these nightmares.

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