Scott Smith, MSW Program Director
With all of the shootings that are taking place in the country of late, this writer has begun to wonder what is our attraction to guns or shooting as a form of resolving disputes? One of the answers is quite apparent particularly for someone who grew up in the 1950s and 1960s, when we as children, including myself, were encouraged to sit in front of the television and watch programs like the Lone Ranger or Roy Rogers and Dale Evans where within a 30 minute program the bad guys were defeated via shootout at the OK corral. With this scene as a backdrop it is no wonder why some in America pick up a gun to resolve the conflict, even the score, or strike out against a perceived enemy.
Blaming the mentally ill for the shootings is fundamentally wrong and discriminatory.
Research has shown that individuals with behavioral health disabilities are responsible for 5 percent of all homicides in our country. The National Institute of Mental Health estimates that 4.2% of the US population has a serious mental illness. Thus, there is no correlation between having a mental illness and having a greater murderous intent. In fact, People with serious mental illness are far more often victims than perpetrators.
While shooting someone or killing someone is morally reprehensible and some would argue definitely outside of normal behavior, generally speaking, a person with mental illness is not attracted to killing people. These high incidences of shootings of late seem to have some kind of personal grudge attached to them; therefore the individuals are not necessarily mentally ill but carrying out what they believe is a justifiable act to bring attention to some wrong that has befallen the person or persons doing the shooting. Also there are those shootings that are committed for political reasons; whether those reasons are rational or not do not seem to be relevant.
Mental health services around the country need to be more readily available to those who need them:
It should go without saying that mental health services around the country need to be readily available to people who need them, and to families who need them. But more and better mental health and substance use services, much as they are needed, may not reduce homicide. All too often it appears that acts of violence towards our fellow Americans are followed by talking heads in the media saying that more mental health services need to be made available to people who need them, however, the money for such services is not made available. I have heard many families whose loved ones have been involved in traumatic events lament “I wish I could have found services for my relative before this happened?”
One does not need to be mentally ill to carry out a violent shooting:
While I would personally argue that one is disturbed by some personality malady when he or she makes the choice to use a weapon to resolve a conflict, I am aware that the United States of America was founded by the use of a gun: a flint lock in the Revolutionary war a rifle or carbine in World War I and II, Vietnam, Iraq. The gun therefore has been a sanctioned tool to settle arguments in this country for over 240 years– are our leaders mentally ill? We should not equate gun violence necessarily with mental illness. It is more the result of lax regulation and the easy availability of guns in our nation. We should make available services for individuals were having troubles psychiatrically or emotionally without vilifying them or seeing them as a danger to others. We live in a country of diversity, not single-mindedness. No group should be feared or marginalized, as these societal attitudes are often at the root of mindless violence or terrorism.