Guns, Mental Illness and Scapegoating


Whenever there is a horrific mass shooting, which seems to be a daily occurrence these days, the Left argues, quite sensibly, that we’d have fewer massacres if it weren’t so goddamn easy for seemingly anyone to get access to high-powered murder weapons even if, like Parkland shooter Nicolas Cruz, you’re a mentally ill, racist teenager with a long, troubling, well-documented erratic behavior and violent impulses. 

Conservatives, meanwhile, argue that the problem with the our horrific epidemic of gun violence can be attributed to everything but guns. I am perpetually horrified by the horrifyingly large segment of the population that believes that the answer to gun violence is more guns and that the ultimate deterrent to school shootings would be an armed veteran, or three, guarding our  schools with high-powered weapons. 

That’s the kind of maddeningly reductive “logic” you would expect from an intellectually and emotionally stunted man-child like Donald Trump. If you don’t stop to really think about the ramifications at all, it seems like a way to kill two birds with one stone, if you will pardon the expression. Theoretically, you’re giving much needed employment to our veterans while protecting our children. In reality, you’re putting murder weapons in the hands of people who have, for the most part been trained by the military to turn off their emotions so that they can be more effective killing machines. 

Evangelical Christians, meanwhile, like to attribute massacres to evil and/or cultural factors. Funny how when Conservatives condemn a culture of violence and nihilism as the cause of mass shootings, they’re seemingly always talking about black inner city kids in gangs and not far-right white kids in militias. To the Myron Magnets of the world, stopping gun violence seems to center not on practical matters to keep guns out of the hands of people who misuse them but rather on black kids pulling their damn pants up and showing sufficient deference and respect for their elders. 

But the most popular Conservative argument in the aftermath of these mass shootings is these massacres are attributable to mental illness and not our gun culture and toxic conception of masculinity. Not long after the shooting, Trump tweeted, with his trademark tone-deafness,”So many signs that the Florida shooter was mentally disturbed, even expelled from school for bad and erratic behavior. Neighbors and classmates knew he was a big problem. Must always report such instances to authorities, again and again!”


The answer, Trump seems to feel, involves teenagers acting as unofficial informants. He seems to believe in instituting a teenaged form of McCarthyism where if a student suspects another might be mentally ill, they then report them to the authorities. Why wouldn’t Trump be in favor of McCarthyism? After all, Trump is proud to call Roy Cohn his mentor and friend. He’ll rip apart Gold Star families and decorated veterans until the cows come home, but he would never speak ill of Joe McCarthy’s little sidekick and a man widely considered one of the most amoral high-powered lawyers ever, and that’s saying something. 

It makes my blood boil to see Trump blame mental illness for the eminently preventable deaths of children and teenagers and adults because I know that he does not give a fuck about mental illness as anything other than a convenient scapegoat to blame for horrific tragedies rather than his masters in the NRA. 

If Trump gave a fuck about mental illness he’d do everything in his part to make sure that every child and adult that wrestles with mental illness (a group that includes myself) had access to therapy and medication and psychiatrists. Instead, Trump signed a bill last year that made it easier for the mentally ill to get access to guns. As someone who has wrestled with Depression and mental illness all his life, I can vouch that what I need, and what people like me need, is a society and government that provides resources and help rather than unlimited, unfettered access to guns. 


It sure seems like the only time Conservatives want to talk about mental illness is when it can be used a scapegoat and a distraction from the real issue at hand, which is a toxic gun culture that sees gun use and masculinity as inextricably intertwined and consequently views gun control as a form of emasculation. Our society and culture both seem to be broken. We elected Donald Trump President, for fuck’s sake. Something is SERIOUSLY wrong with us. 


Maybe we wouldn’t have these kinds of massacres if it wasn’t much easier for a mentally ill, rage-choked adolescent like Cruz to get legal access to semi-automatic weapons than access to psychological help. 

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