Today, two people were shot at a Florida movie theater. One of them died, the other was wounded.
I think it's pretty much past argument now that we have a gun problem in this country. Blame it on whatever you want. Blame it on video games, on the political left, the political right, on bad parenting. Blame to your heart's content.
I'm waiting for someone to blame it on mental illness.
Because that's what always happens when a tragedy strikes. When someone pulls out a gun. The shooter is immediately dismissed as "crazy", "batshit", "mentally ill" and the immediate situation is spun into a plea for laws that prevent mentally ill people from owning guns.
But how do we define "mentally ill"?
Do we go with the seemingly simple definition, that anyone diagnosed with a condition from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) is prohibited from owning a gun? Well, then, that would prohibit anyone with any number of conditions from owning a gun, including increasingly common conditions like major depressive disorder, autism spectrum disorder, anorexia, bulimia. According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NAMH), in a given year, more than 26% of adults can be diagnosed with a mental disorder in a given year. That's more than one quarter of the adult population that could be prohibited from owning a gun under that broad definition. It's also important to note that definitions of "mental illness" are fluid and have changed with the times. Homosexuality was included in the DSM until 1973.
If we prohibited gay and lesbian people from owning guns, there would be a national outcry. Why, then, is there no outcry when we consider prohibiting those with psychiatric disabilities from owning guns?
"Okay." you say. "But what if we limited it only to those who are violent? Surely that would reduce all this gun violence we're facing!"
Putting aside, for a moment, the minutiae of that suggestion - would it be only those who have acted on violent urges? Those who have expressed desire to do harm to themselves, but not to others? To others, but not themselves? - violent thoughts and urges are very often not visible. Mental illness is just that - mental. It is literally "all in your head". Many people with mental illness suffer in silence, afraid that their complaints won't be taken seriously. It is impossible to tell for sure whether someone has a mental illness, or, more to the point, is having violent thoughts, unless, of course, you are that person, or the person tells you themselves. And with new laws like the one in my home state of NY, designed at reducing violence by requiring that mental health professionals report when a patient is “likely to engage in conduct that would result in serious harm to self or others.”, people with psychiatric disabilities will be even more reluctant to admit that they may have mental health issues. So, truly, it is impossible to determine, once and for all, which people have mental illness and violent thoughts. There is always a chance that someone, somewhere, may own a gun and have violent urges. And whether violent urges on their own are a sign of mental illness or just a sign of the times is up for debate, as well.
So don't villainize people with psychiatric disabilities in your quest for a safer world. We have enough stigma heaped on our shoulders. Find another way to end gun violence - a way that might actually work. We cannot be your scapegoats anymore.