It’s time to address the sweeping term of “mental illness” when it comes to gun violence


By Kamrin Baker

When a man killed over 50 people in Las Vegas last week, the runners on the news told us that Paul Ryan thinks it is time to reform mental healthcare.

When a man killed over 50 people in Las Vegas last week, Donald Trump called him a “sick man.”

When a man killed over 50 people in Las Vegas last week, most of the world assumed that only a brain that didn’t work properly would be capable of pulling off such an act.

It is time to reform mental healthcare, the criminal was probably experiencing some kind of breakdown, and yes, this mass shooting was an act of evil, but it is irresponsible to blame all aspects of the Las Vegas shooting—and many other acts of mass gun violence—on mental illness.

I have a mental illness. I am also a non-violent, 5-foot-3 woman who is afraid of blood and needles. I’ve seen hell through the lens of a panic attack, I’ve contemplated suicide, I’ve been through years of cognitive therapy and medication, and my struggle is not an assumption to throw into a political statement aftera tragedy.

My suffering—and the suffering of individuals who struggle with greater and more severe mental illnesses—is not the cause of mass murder. Although a common diagnosis, my anxiety disorder enables a description I will carry for the rest of my life: mentally ill. When the politicians and the commentators call a terrorist “mentally ill,” he and I seem to have something in common.

To understand what this means, we must understand the definition of mental health itself, which is the state of everyone’s psychological and emotional wellbeing. We all have mental health—as much as we have physical health—to maintain. With that in mind, like people with medical conditions such as diabetes and heart disease, many people’s mental health is not in peak performance.

In fact, 1 in 5 Nebraskans has a mental illness, according to the University of Nebraska Medical Center’s 2016 Behavioral Health Assessment.It is both obvious and logical to agree that people suffering from mental illnesses should not have access to guns. However,it is also deeply important to note that most people diagnosed with a mental condition are not usually violent, and “most interpersonal violence in the U.S. is not caused by mental illness,” according to John Hopkins professor Beth McGinty, who works in the Center for Gun Policy and Research, when she spoke to Newsweek writer Joseph Frankel.

The fact of the matter is that many politicians—Republican politicians—and supporters of the National Rifle Association are trying to deflect the attention away from gun control legislation by putting attention on mental illness instead.

Not only is this a dangerous and flippant way to address gun violence, but it further stigmatizes everyone with a mental illness. It also brings into question the issue of race in these unfortunately plentiful incidents of mass gun violence in America. We’ve all seen it: white people who act in such a manner are more likely to be called mentally ill, while people of color are immediately named terrorists. However, domestic terrorism, aka: white men toting semi-automatic rifles, is a much more common and concerning issue than outside forces in America at this time.

According to CNN writer Naaz Modan, out of 62 cases of mass gun violence between 1982 and 2012, 44 shooters were white men. This does not include the most recent statistics that would include the Las Vegas shooting but still makes my point loud and clear. We cannot downplay the rage and violence of domestic terrorists by calling them sick. Furthermore, we cannot continue to generalize human beings with mental illnesses as threats in our society.

Essentially, I want people who want to purchase warzone-level weapons to feel as ashamed as they make those with mental illnesses.

In a way, Paul Ryan is right, which are words I thought I’d never say. It is time for action towards mental healthcare reform. It has been time for mental healthcare reform for eons. All people of all backgrounds deserve affordable access to help, medication, resources and a stigma-free society. Healthcare—including healthcare that contains cognitive therapy and psychologist visits—is a right, not a privilege.That being said, it’s also time for action regarding gun control.

It’s not “too soon” to make this issue political, as it is too late. The people in power in this country have allowed these horrific acts of violence to pave over with a blanket of “thoughts and prayers” for years. I am not here to nix the Second Amendment, to “steal your guns,” but I’m here to open the conversation, to ask our Congress to make access to guns smaller and more specific until we see a massive decrease in violence. And a massive increase in care and love for those who feel lost, vulnerable and hurt—even without a bullet to the chest.