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Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Guns, mental health and hate speech

Our Problem Is A LOT Bigger Than Just The Guns

Kids Shooting animated GIF Each time there is another mass shooting in this country there is a temporary outrage, along with a public cry of “why??” 

But for those of us who haven’t been affected YET by gun violence, we eventually forget about it and go on with our daily routines believing that such tragedies are far removed from our own lives. 

So at what point will we all finally say, “ENOUGH!”?? And will we ever learn anything from so much senseless death?

What exactly IS the problem?

To spite what you hear from the NRA and the gun-obsessed, the mass shooting death toll has more than doubled since Columbine. We have become a nation who not only loves guns, but who actually idolizes and worships them. We currently have nearly as many guns as people in this country. No other nation has more guns per capita than does the U.S. And more than 30 Americans are killed by gun violence every single day….and 7 of those 30 are kids. So, yes, YES I DO believe that we have a gun problem.

But honestly, it would be foolish to call this a gun only problem. Our issue with mass shootings is far more complicated than that. A huge part of this stems from mental illness. And there is no question that we are derelict in our responsibilities to the mentally ill in this country.

We also must take a look at the violence inciting hate speech that has become commonplace in our society. We are perhaps more politically polarized today than we’ve ever been in our history. And the political extremists have no shame in talking about armed militias and government hating. The anti-government rhetoric is at an all time high and for many it has actually become mainstream daily news.

First, let’s talk about the GUNS.

We have a reported 300 million guns in this country right now. And statistics show us that more guns equals more deaths. Honestly, we need to really stop and take a look at all of the senseless gun violence every single day, most of which no longer even gets reported because we’ve all become so immune to it. Look at all of the mass shootings that we’ve had…that we continue to have…and that will surely go on.

One of the biggest gun problems that we have is that they are entirely too accessible. Most guns used in mass shootings were purchased legally. And another problem is that any worthwhile legislation is either non-existent or not enforced. In the year following the Columbine shooting,there were 800 gun bills introduced across the country. But less than 10% of those passed. And one of those failed attempts was a federal bill that would have closed the gun show loophole.

In December 2012, after the Sandy Hook shooting it did look like maybe this country was ready to finally pass some real gun control measures. But, since then, there have been 39 state laws passed to tighten gun control. However, they were eclipsed by the more than 70 to loosen them.

Look, it is naive to think that this country would ever attempt to take away all of the guns. But it is incomprehensible that common sense gun legislation is met with so much hostility.  It’s as if the mere mention of any sort of common sense gun laws, regulation or restrictions seems to threaten something fundamental to Americans. Why is that? I mean, if you are a sane, law abiding gun owner then you have nothing to worry about.

In my opinion, there are so many smart laws that could make a big difference, like tracking the sales of ammo, closing the gun show loophole, mandatory background and mental health checks, magazine capacity limits, and getting rid of Stand Your Ground and all of these new ridiculous open-carry laws….just to name a few. But at a more basic level, why can’t we treat gun rights with at least the same respect as we do driving privileges?

Why not require gun owners to go through some sort of training, like we do with driving school, and then make them pass a safety test in order to get a license? And just like with a driver’s license, we should make gun owners retest every so often to keep their license. We could also require a new background check each time you renew your license, which would catch if there were any felony arrests or mental health problems.

I’m not talking about radical ideas here, I’m just suggesting some common sense regulations that would potentially keep the public safer without infringing upon anyone’s second amendment rights. Aren’t the lives of the people you love worth at least that much??

Now let’s talk about MENTAL HEALTH.

There is somethings that most mass shooters all have in common, and I’m not talking about the obvious answer of the guns. Another thing that nearly all of them have is some sort of mental illness. 

A study conducted by the Central Florida Intelligence Exchange last year found that more than 79% of all mass shootings were attributed to a history of mental illness. The study found what most of us probably already knew, that since 2011, most of the mass shooters in this country “demonstrated signs of continuous behavioral health issues and mental illness.”

There are some people who believe that another thing most of these killers have in common is that they all were taking, or have taken, some kind of psychotropic medication. There are studies that suggest that there is a direct link between many of these shooters and pharmaceuticals known as SSRI drugs (Selective Serotonin Re-Uptake Inhibitors ).

But I have to point out some things here. First of all, correlation does not equal causality. In other words, just because the killers were taking medication does not prove that the medicine caused them to murder. Perhaps instead we can explain this by understanding that all of these shooters were taking medication because they were mentally ill. And therefore the cause of the shooting could have been the mental illness, not the drugs.

Another problem is that we don’t know if all of these shooters who were taking medication were taking the correct dose or were even under the care of an appropriate psychiatrist.

One thing we DO know is that our mental health system is absolutely inefficient in this country. Now the exact reasons for this can be debated all day, but the fact that we have so severely stigmatized people with mental health issues means that even if the system were ideal, most people wouldn’t go for  help. 

Then you add to that the fact that there isn’t enough funding for proper facilities to operate, and for the few that are up and running, they are so overburdened that most cannot possibly take care of the patients who do go for help.

And we can’t leave out the violence-inciting HATE SPEECH.

In my opinion, anyone who leaves this piece of the puzzle out of the discussion about our mass shooting problem is simply not paying attention. This is also another thing that nearly all of the mass shooters have in common. 

Most of them subscribed to some kind of hate speech group or media outlet. For all of them, they felt justified in what they were doing. And when you combine access to firearms with mental illness and then add in constantly listening to or participating in violence-inciting speech, it seems that you have the perfect storm for a mass shooting.

Now I’m not saying that all of the people who listen to extremists on the internet or talk radio or even Fox News will go out on a shooting spree. But I do believe that listening to this type of thing, and being egged on, when a person is already vulnerable, contributes to the violence.

For someone who is already unstable, listening to extremist propaganda is like stoking a fire. It can both reinforce a destructive desire already there, and also provoke the fear and hatred required to go out and massacre innocent people.

Look, I certainly don’t have all of the answers to this deadly epidemic, but I do think that it is a multi-faceted problem, and one that we simply must address. And we must address all three of these pieces. 

Something has to change here. We must find a way to fix this problem. We are better than this and our children shouldn’t be forced to adapt to such a violent way of life. This is not just a problem. This is OUR problem. Now what are we going to do about it?

Mindy Fischer is a lefty-liberal, freelance political writer. Follow her on Facebook and on Twitter.