When it comes to the concept of mental illness and mass shootings, I remain a little torn on the subject.
On one hand, the term “mental illness” is a very broad term that covers everything from mild depression to things like paranoid schizophrenia and psychopathy. Further, the link between mental illness and mass shooting is scientifically murky at best. We just can’t look at a set of symptoms and determine that this person is likely to become a mass shooter.
On the other hand, stable, psychologically well-adjusted people don’t shoot up schools, movie theaters, workplaces, or anywhere else outside of a gun range.
For many Republicans, though, there’s no ambiguity for them. They’ve latched onto mental health as an issue, both in general as well as an answer to mass shootings.
In Minnesota, GOP state senators have proposed an additional $25 million for mental health services for students, farmers, expectant mothers and homeless people. In Georgia, the GOP legislature formed a committee this past spring to take a comprehensive look at all aspects of that state’s mental health system. And in Utah, Republican legislators and Gov. Gary R. Herbert (R) have been adding more mental health counselors to schools.
Even in Washington, President Trump has vowed to consider federal policy changes, including floating a controversial proposal to open more psychiatric institutions. It has become his go-to solution for mass shootings, most recently after August’s back-to-back shootings in El Paso and Dayton, Ohio.
“I do want people to remember the words ‘mental illness.’ These people are mentally ill,” Trump said of mass shooters several days after the incidents. “A lot of our conversation has to do with the fact that we have to open up institutions; we can’t let these people be on the streets.”
Many Democratic lawmakers and advocates say Republican leaders’ growing focus on mental health is at odds with their track record of limiting funding and opposing Medicaid expansion, which generally covers mental health services. They say it’s a political play to latch on to growing public awareness of the issue.
Be that as it may, the truth of the matter is that something is very broken within the people who commit these atrocities. Normal, sane people don’t decide to slaughter the innocent in job lots. They don’t look at the number of people massacred as a “score” that they should aspire to top. Those are the hallmarks of someone with some profound psychological problems.
In an era when the public is demanding that lawmakers “do something,” but gun rights activists are digging in for the fight of their lives, it’s not surprising that Republicans looked elsewhere for a solution.
The truth of the matter is that if they’re successful, it will undermine many of the anti-gunners talking points quite well.
For one thing, if mass shootings start to slow down in number, that’s a big win by anyone’s metric. It may also reduce the number of suicides, which make up two-thirds of the total number of people killed with a firearm. That’s the number anti-gunners love to throw around to justify their totalitarian grab for our Second Amendment rights. Decreasing that number will undermine their efforts quite well.
To be clear, I’m not a fan of using tax dollars for this sort of thing, by and large, but if tax dollars going to be spent to address this kind of thing anyway–and yes, they will–I think this is a far more productive effort than trying to restrict the rights of ordinary, mentally-healthy, law-abiding citizens any day of the week.