On Guns, We are the Mentally Ill

Yesterday’s shocking shooting in Colorado was familiar in the broad strokes, with touches of the bizarre specificity we’ve come to expect. Lone white male goes off his rocker and shoots a lot of people at one time in a public place. He thinks he is the joker in Batman. But wait- he is a former medical student! He must have been academically brilliant at one time. Astonishing. We think- it must be mental illness. The man is insane. But we in the U.S. are the ones with a mental problem. We have thousands of laws on the books, all about policing ourselves, making sure that we can’t do things to ourselves because we will only hurt ourselves. Yet when it comes to guns, weapons that kill and maim other people, we refuse to do anything. What’s the message- Don’t hurt yourself, but it’s OK to arm yourself to hurt other people? Seems to me we have the mental illness. We are schizophrenic on the subject of guns.

My husband was pulled over by a local cop not too long ago for not wearing his seat belt. Shame on him! He received a stern warning, almost got an expensive ticket. Mayor Bloomberg wants to ban 16 oz. soda sizes, for our own good. Soon sugar intake will be fine-worthy. Smokers need to run undercover, drug users go to jail by the thousands, and you can’t have a beer under the age of 21. Gambling will ruin you, sodomy is downright disgusting, and don’t ride a bike without a helmet. All of these laws, regulations, pronouncements of moral certitude, all enacted for our own good. Don’t do drugs, it will kill you. Don’t get fat, it will kill you. Don’t you dare drive without a seat belt, it will kill you.

Yes, it’s true that all of these individual bad habits have societal costs, and so we’ve been convinced again and again to give away our individual liberty for the greater good. I’m not convinced we’ve made society any better, but at least we’ve tried to consider the other guy when it comes to prohibiting smoking in restaurants, reducing drunk driving, and having fewer people end up dead in car accidents.

Now let’s talk about guns. In Colorado, it is illegal to register a firearm. Read that again – I said ILLegal, as in prohibited. It’s also perfectly ok to drive up to a movie theater with a truckload of weapons. In fact, you don’t even need a permit for those weapons. If you are really trigger- happy, go ahead and buy yourself an AR-15, a repeater rifle whose purpose is neither for sport nor self- defense. Buy three! The state is forbidden to find out how many you have, because it is ILLEGAL to keep track of someone’s weapons.

We’ve lost our way in our vehement defense of our right to bear arms. We have a right to protect ourselves, but not to hurt anybody else. We are so busy policing our moral lapses and bad habits for the sake of “our own good”, that we’ve forgotten the larger, more important role of a self-governing people. First, do no harm. Use the government to make sure others can’t harm you.

Since the Supreme Court affirmed that we do in fact have the right to arm ourselves to protect ourselves, we’ve gone gun crazy, abolishing perfectly reasonable limitations on a person’s ability to own and use a dangerous weapon. Even President Obama, fearless when it comes to killing enemies overseas, is so afraid of the NRA lobby in this election year that he refuses to even suggest that we move the pendulum back to a reasonable place.

The Colorado shooter used a semi-automatic assault weapon to fire off dozens of bullets a minute. No gun owner I know believes that there is any justifiable use for them, except in the hands of the military. These weapons need to be banned, immediately. We might not be able to prevent the next crazy shooter from going nuts with a gun, but at least we can reduce the amount of casualties. We can consider the other guy, for a change. Because that other guy could well be you, or me.

Last Saturday my husband and I drove down to Baltimore to visit with our daughter for the weekend. The three of us went to see Spiderman. We sat in the dark theater, enjoying each other’s company and the classic American pastime of watching a terrific blockbuster movie together on a summer evening. Since yesterday, I have been back in that movie theater, imagining that we too could have been those victims, huddled together in the imagined security of public darkness. I say a prayer of gratefulness that we were excused from their fate.

Do No Harm is the oath the Colorado shooter would have taken, had he completed a different destiny. Now that phrase rests like a bitter pill to be swallowed by the victims and their loved ones. It’s time we got real, and reasonable, and insisted that others Do No Harm to us.

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2 thoughts on “On Guns, We are the Mentally Ill

  1. Lets face it, this is America. We are a gun toting republic. We like our guns and we like the fact that our Constitution says that we can arm ourselves. I agree that we, the People of These United States need to sit down and once and for all and decide as to whether the public should be able to purchase and own an assault/military grade guns.

    There is a larger picture here. It not only has to do with gun control, but also with better access to mental health services. In this country you can get your insurance to pay for you to have your stomach stapled to induce weight loss, get nose and boob jobs, but millions do not have access to good quality mental health resources.

    We do not know at this point what was in the mind of the shooter. He is obviously smart, a PHD at 24, yeah I would call that smart. Mentally ill people do not methodically plan and set booby trap’s. Until he has been professional evaluated and declared mentally ill or incompetent, I will hold off my judgments. I think its easier to pigeon hole the shoot as mentally ill than to admit to a larger issue within our society. It lets us off the hook and allows us to point the finger away from ourselves. There is a break down in our society. We have become more violent and entitled. A combination that is proving to be deadly, for many.

    The use of words such a schizophrenic, mentally ill is offensive and the continuation of stigma’s that are not based in reality. Just my humble opinion.

  2. Yes, using schizophrenic in the colloquial sense, as having a divided mind on something. We have no problem restricting ourselves on a range of behaviors that arguably do damage only to ourselves, but when it comes to guns- which obviously harm other people- we have a totally different set of rules. There is so much more to say on this subject- thank you for your thoughtful response.

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