Mental Health Education, Not Gun Laws, Will Reduce Violence in Our Schools

Forgive me going off-topic, but this isn’t that far off-topic. Before you start screaming about gun control – and I certainly know why you’d want to today – it makes more sense to look at this in the sense of message vs. messenger. Guns are the messenger and the shooters are the message…and the message is that we need just as much energy, attention and resources devoted to mental health as we do gun control.

Years ago, before I went to jail, I was a firm believer is strict gun control laws. The math made sense. Less guns equals less gun violence, right? It’s a knee-jerk reaction when school shootings happen. You want to go after whoever did it. This was the rare case where the murderer didn’t kill himself. No murderer, you go after the murder weapon. It’s human nature. I did this for years.

Then I spent six months in jail. One of the rights I give up as somebody who has committed a felony is the right to bear arms. I’m OK with that as I’ve never owned a gun. I’m too clumsy, have no interest in hunting, and have a home security system my children can’t accidentally kill themselves with.

In jail, I got to meet a lot of criminals. If you’ve read my stuff before, you probably know I’m more of the figure-out-what-makes-you-tick vs. judge-you kind of guy. I found the people I lived with in jail absolutely fascinating because I’d not been around this socioeconomic group with any regularity in life. Talking to them changed my outlook on gun control.

Here’s the thing: Criminals know how to get guns. Many felons who aren’t supposed to have guns own several. By virtue of the fact that they have a proven track record of not following the law, it should come as no surprise to anybody that criminals don’t care about gun laws. If they want a gun, they’ll have a gun. There is no legislation about bump stocks, silencers, ammunition types, etc. that are going to stop them. I met too many inmates who don’t care about gun laws to believe that any legislation is going to keep them out of the hands of criminals.

Here’s the other thing I realized in jail: There is a huge amount of unchecked mental illness in this world. Most people I was locked up with were there for drug violations or domestic abuse. Those who were in for major drug violations were usually dealing to fund their habit, otherwise, they were caught for possession and from what I could tell, their use was medicinal, not recreational. Those who battered their girlfriend or wives did so because they didn’t have the tools to solve conflict in a non-violent manner.

Maybe I’ve been in therapy so long (over 20 years off and on now) that I have picked up a lot by osmosis, but unless they were intellectually deficient, there was almost always a mental health issue at play with the people I met in jail. When the medical cart came around in the evening, two-thirds of us took some kind of med and several of those who didn’t probably would have qualified.

I will never believe that somebody who is capable of killing almost 20 people in cold blood in such a public manner is not mentally ill. He should be locked up forever – mental illness doesn’t excuse crime in my opinion – but to suggest just because school shooters are able to carry out a plan shows that they are sane displays a lack of understanding of mental illness.

This country is still too conservative and puritanical when it comes to accepting mental illness. If you can’t put a Band-Aid on your boo-boo, it’s not a real boo-boo. Stop your crying and go be a man! Maybe that attitude is what got us to a place where you have to kill more than three or four kids in a school shooting for people to even notice anymore.

I’m not going to suggest for a moment I know what was going on in this Florida shooter’s life, but from the little I read today, it does sound like there were certainly warning signs, both in his outward behavior and threats he made. If we knew as much about mental health as we do about physical health, maybe something could have been done.

We’re going to make our greatest strides toward curbing gun violence – and not just in schools, but across the board – when we finally give mental health the attention it deserves. We’ll check sixth grade kids for scoliosis, but we won’t take five minutes to find out if they’re depressed. Something is wrong with this picture.

13 thoughts on “Mental Health Education, Not Gun Laws, Will Reduce Violence in Our Schools

  1. So much here! I agree, mental health issues get far too little attention. It’s like everyone forgets that people have a context and think they woke up one day and decided to be a monster. No one every arrives at a course of action like than except through a long and probably painful journey.

  2. A great read. I have no idea how people think harsher gun control laws will stop criminals from obtaining them… *shakes head*
    But yes, mental health is a big factor in such disturbing situations. And the inability to communicate in today’s society. And the lack of interest on the parents’ part often plays a role as well.

  3. I like the point that you make. But the question is how do we keep up? How are we gonna therapy those thousands of people with mental health issues? I think there needs to be both. Gun Control and tackling of the Mental Health problem. There is no other industrialized country with these staggering numbers of mortality caused by gun violence. I think it’s easier to get into gun control while start tackling te mental health issue,

    1. Well, I don’t want to sound cold, but if we’re strictly looking to curb unintentional death in those under 18, there are so many more places than gun control to look. It’s an old example from the book Freakonomics, but statistics show that far more children accidentally drown in their family swimming pool than die by gun violence. What are we doing about that problem as a society? Nothing, because it doesn’t get ratings or get people angry. You’re right about having limited resources, but if we can screen kids for vision and hearing, certainly we can do it for mental health.

      1. As a person with no (diagnosed) mental health problem, I may have gotten this wrong. But isn’t a part of therapy accepting that there IS a problem? I have a bad vision which is clear when I put my glasses off and my parents and teachers recognized it when I was in 1st grade. How do you want to diagnose mental health issues from the outside when some of these have no clear evidence?

        And also, the point for me isn’t that I want to reduce casualties for under 18-year-olds but for the general public.

        It is clear to me, why the GOP didn’t hesitate in proposing to arm the teachers. More Weapons means more revenue for the NRA means more funding for the candidates.

        I think we should impose laws making it hard to buy assault weapons in a spontaneous matter and impossible for the mentally-ill.

  4. I hadn’t thought of the money aspect in arming the teachers. My parents were both elementary school teachers. I trust a crazed gunman with a firearm more than them.

    Some mental illnesses actually preclude the person with them from knowing they are ill. By definition, many crazy people can’t realize they are crazy. You’re right that with some very specific disorders that it is hard to perfectly diagnose. Also, there would need to be vetting of what is acceptable or what is not under the mental illness umbrella. Do we treat someone diagnosed with bipolar the same as PTSD, the same as borderline personality disorder the same as ADHD?

    My original point, though, is that criminals don’t buy guns the legal way, so putting more restrictions on how to legally buy guns doesn’t seem like something that will have any effect. I think it’s one of those laws that will make us all feel better, but have no statistical relevance. I’m not against putting a buttload of restrictions on it. I’m just saying I don’t expect it to make any difference. Criminals don’t follow laws…so why make more?

  5. I completely agree with you on this, including the fact that criminals who really want guns will get guns if they really want them. I do, however, feel that people with mental illness are better off without them. Or if they truly are die-hard hunting enthusiasts, they don’t need military type guns. I also cannot understand why on earth anyone but military or police really need military type guns/rifles. I mean if they have some kind of real obsession with collecting such things, I think they should have to go through a rigorous background check and get a special collector’s license.

    I agree that many people who commit serious crimes do have mental illness behind it. Or even those without more typical mental illnesses (like the big ones mentioned in the DSM-5), are suffering from a very sad misguidance as a result of child abuse, poverty, and/or cultural/environmental/social stressors. Of course I believe dangerous individuals must be kept away from the public, for public safety, I, unlike many many people, have some sympathy for them. I wrote a post in my blog called “Hating isn’t fair”. It sort of mentions this topic and why people shouldn’t demonize criminals so much. Unfortunately, not only is there extreme ignorance about mental illness, there is a very sad hatred towards people who really had a bad situation from the very beginning of their lives. So often the people that hate and condemn these criminals (mentally ill or just sadly affected) the most, are the ones that preach peace and forgiveness. Forgiveness and mercy are preached with hypocrisy way too often.

    I have bipolar disorder. I’ve never gone to jail or prison, though. Many people with bipolar disorder can certainly relate to hypersexuality, with many having porn addictions, at least during manic phases. That’s really wonderful that you’ve created this blog to help educate others on this issue. Just like mental illnesses such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder are highly and unfairly stigmatized, so are various addictions, including porn addictions.

    1. I think it really comes down to hunters not wanting to say their truth: It’s fun to kill things and it’s even more fun the more powerful a gun is. Thank you for what you wrote about mental illness. You are 100% correct.

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