Mental health is universal – mass shootings are not. The only cause of the mentally ill committing mass shootings is their access to guns, so there should clearly be some sort of control incited here. But, analyzing mental health is a part of the gun control process. In this way, the debate is no debate at all. Not only do they coincide with one another, but they harmonize.
Unlike other mass shootings in the past, we are seeing an outcome – and backlash – that is lasting a little longer in the aftermath of the Parkland shooting, thanks to the fearless Florida teens who are fighting it. But obviously, Parkland is not the only instance in which this backlash has occurred. As a result of the literally dozens of mass shootings this year alone, this idea of mental illness and gun control have been debated.
In one corner of the ring we have the idea of focusing more on the mental health of high schoolers (i.e. better school counselors on campus), and in the other corner we have those who enforce gun control (i.e. background checks, higher taxes, a similar process of getting a driver’s license). But why is this even a debate? We should have better counselors in high schools anyway because depression and anxiety rates in high schoolers are higher than ever before – and it’s also just the right damn thing to do. We should pay attention to struggling youth and reach out to help them regardless of whether or not they are a threat.
Nikolas Cruz was restricted from wearing his backpack around school because he posed a threat. He posted disturbing photos and messages on social media, among so many other red flags. Yet, the state of his mental health was not attended to like it should have been in the very institution in which he inflicted the tragedy upon. As a result, 17 young lives were lost.
However, there are a lot of blank spaces in this debate as well – who will suggest who is mentally ill enough to not own a firearm or vice versa? A psychiatrist? A judge? A severe mental illness can start at any point in life, will these people have to have weekly checkups in order to own a firearm? Who will pay for these visits?
It does not help that when mental illness is debated, it is debated so vaguely. By its very definition, mental illness covers a wide range of conditions. According to psychiatry professor Arash Javanbakht, there are over 200 listed in the most recent Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, any of which could be applied to the simple term “mental illness”. The Kirkwood shooter from 10 years ago was not particularly diagnosed with a mental illness, though some believe he had manic depressive disorder while others believe he was just a broken person.
Regardless, a process in which the shooter, Cookie Thornton, was able to be psychologically evaluated before being handed a gun – a requirement that would arise from ideal gun control restrictions – would perhaps result in a gun not even landing in his hands in the first place.
But when does such person who is mentally ill become a threat? Javanbakht says it is more common that if a mentally ill person is a threat, they are a threat to themselves and not others. Statistically, it is more common for someone to be depressed and suicidal. The psychiatric disorders like schizophrenia and paranoia are the disorders that are more likely to become a threat.
Alongside of this comes the idea of substance abuse, something that can dramatically influence the way in which the mental illness is projected. These aspects in of themselves are complicated, let alone when they are applied to a gun control debate. So, it is important to not generalize mental illness when it is in reality not general at all.
When analyzing this debate there are so many roads to go down that do and do not make a lot of sense. But I believe that every human being has a right to mental health, and every human being has a right to not get shot by individuals who are unrightfully given a military grade weapon as a result of the lack thereof.