Guns and Mental Illness: The View From My Front Porch
I play a learning game with myself occasionally. When I feel very strongly about something, I need to be reminded that the strength of my opinion is usually inversely proportionate to the depth of my knowledge... the less I know the louder I talk. So to tone myself down I write down what I think I know and then research to see if I am even close. Here is one I wrote after the incident in Roseburg, Oregon a couple of weeks ago.
Note: The best statistics are available on Mother Jone website. Read the information and see what you think.
See this article about Patrick Kennedy's take on mental illness and the Roseburg killings.
From 1900 until 1958 there were four mass murders here in the United States. In fact, in my youth I did not even know that sort of thing could ever happen. But as the years passed, I saw President Kennedy, Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King assassinated. It was a string of beads that added up to mass murder in my mind. By the time my oldest was graduating from high school the ship had sailed on good manners and rebellion was the norm. That is how I remember it.
In spite of the talk about gun registration and how it has impacted us, I think there may be another more logical reason for the problems we see now.
Here is what I have found:
In 1982 Republican Ronald Reagan defeated Democrat Jimmy Carter and became president of our country. The Republicans took over our congress. Ronald Reagan believed that our citizenship was taking advantage of government programs. He convinced the public that "welfare cheats" and programs for mentally ill were the cause for many of our country's financial problems. As soon as he became president he and his party set about correcting the money problems stripping those programs bear. President Carter saw mental health as a significant problem in our country but Reagan would not acknowledge that it was an issue...
One month prior to the election, President Carter had signed the Mental Health Systems Act, which had proposed to continue the federal community mental health centers program, although with some additional state involvement. Consistent with the report of the Carter Commission, the act also included a provision for federal grants “for projects for the prevention of mental illness and the promotion of positive mental health,”.... With President Reagan and the Republicans taking over, the Mental Health Systems Act was discarded before the ink had dried. from SalonThis was when the Reagan administration touted the concept of "homeless by choice" and called the mentally ill veterans among others "double dippers" for taking benefits they were legally entitled to. Those benefits were taken away and people were left with such a little bit of income that it was very hard for them to survive. I had a mentally ill uncle that was a veteran of WWII that was caught in this web.
During the following years facilities that had housed, treated and guided mental health care closed. Homelessness here in Oregon was rampant and as we drove down the freeways we could see homeless camps everywhere. It is said that Reagan did not understand mental illness. Maybe he thought homelessness was okay for the poor and mentally ill. The beginning of an era of "turning a blind eye" to human suffering was begun. Our veterans are still living on the streets today.
And I believe:
Those that are mentally ill are not seeking treatment in a consistent way. In fact, as I understand it, the homeless now can sleep on the public streets if they want...legally. I suppose that is cheaper and easier than actually dealing with the problem.
We need to push for better mental health care and disseminate information about the causes, signs, possible problems and provide help. We certainly do not systematically promote good mental health practices in public media nearly as much as we should.
I doubt very much if public schools are addressing the subject at all. And it has been my experience that school counselors are overwhelmed when it comes to helping students with mental health issues. Help from public mental health clinics may could be hard to find. It is a daunting task.
Like the killer in Roseburg, most of those people that act on the need to go on a killing rampage are mentally ill. Seeing the possible link between what is a historical fact and what is happening today is not a huge leap. Not in my opinion. Current gun laws that do not restrict ownership of military style weapons and lack of better mental health care are the perfect brewing ingredients for more and more disasters.
We cannot change the past. What is, is. But we can take a good hard look at our opinions on gun ownership and mentally illness. We can go beyond shouting loud and finding excuses. Yes, it is the people that pull the trigger that kill people. Yes, the gun laws do give us the right to keep arms. The Supreme Court has decided that we can do that.
What if we focused our attention on going to war on mental illness? Let the gun lobby have their guns...I for one give up. They win that battle. If what is happening is their fault then that is on their conscience. They have more money and so their influence carries more weight.
But finding solution for mental illness is a battle no one should give up on. Can't we do something...anything...positive to act on that cause and move on?
I know this is simplistic and those of you that are more knowledgeable than me could change this discussion. But sometimes just doing something good can make a lot of bad seem less of a burden.
Does anyone have a solution? You tell me.
Just a thought!
Wouldn't it be fun to see the gun lobby and the NRA go out of business because no one will fight with them anymore? Doesn't that just make you smile?