Gun Control vs Mental Health: How Do We Stop the Killing?

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Are mass murderers mentally ill or should we pursue gun control? This is a hot topic of debate. As a person who has a career spanning 40 years in mental health I would like to answer this question by answering some common statements that I’ve seen in the news the last few days.

“We don’t need gun control, we need better mental health services”. Wrong. We need both. If we have even one dangerously murderous potential mass murderer in our community we need to restrict their access to weapons. Isn’t this obvious, Republican Party?

“Most killers are not mentally ill.” What?! First of all I’d like to see a shred of statistical evidence to back that up. This is always said in forums with no citations. Even if there were stats for this amazing statement, can we consider where the known killers are? They are in prisons, American prisons, that famously do not provide adequate mental health services to inmates. No services equal no diagnoses, and no diagnoses equal no statistics. In the 1980s I did some research about serial killers (different than mass murderers but still…) and I found that an alarming number had temporal lobe lesions and/or diagnoses of Multiple Personality Disorder (what would now be Dissociative Identity Disorder).   We do not know jack daw about mass murderers. Most kill themselves, the rest end up in prison undertreated and definitely unresearched. As a therapist, when I read the descriptions of these folks they seem easily diagnosable to me. They are definitely not pinnacles of mental health and well being.

“Most mentally ill people do not kill other people.” Yes, that is a true statement. But that is not a reversible statement. See above. It is not logical to use this statement to establish anything. Even if mentally ill people don’t kill, they still deserve treatment. Most of us who have PTSD, for example, know that if a gun were in our hands in the wrong moment we could have killed ourselves or somebody else.  I believe a lot of couple murder/suicides happen this way, as terrible accidents that could have been prevented by not having a gun in the house.

“These people are not mentally ill, they are evil.” Really, folks it is 2015 not 1515. Should we sprinkle holy water on them? All sarcasm aside, to make this statement you have to assume that people are either born evil or choose to become evil. I do not subscribe to the belief that any human is born evil. Evil is a construct. Nobody is all good or all evil.   We are born babies, open to both good and evil actions . If a human grows up and identifies as evil, in other words, service to self above all others no matter what the cost they can wreak great havoc in the world. But if they are sanely evil, they do not usually end up dead, at least not for a while, they usually end up running corporations or governments (jk) (not really). Most of these mass murderers are young men who have barely started to live, and most end up dead at the end of their rampage. Where is the sanity in that? Calling these guys evil is lazy and glib and blinds us to solutions.

I recommend we all step back, take a deep breath and acknowledge to ourselves that each mass murderer is an individual with their own reasons for doing what they did. If we hope to prevent more such actions we need to seek to understand their behaviors and address the disconnection and untreated suffering that led to such a horrible event. And we need gun control.


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