Both mental health and guns deserve our attention

The Newtown school shooting. It’s a tragedy that a mass shooting requires a qualifier, but this is America so we need to be specific as not to be confused with Aurora, Columbine, Arizona, or Virginia Tech. Colorado massacres require a site specific qualifier.

There are 2 common elements with all these massacres: mental illness and guns (not hunting rifles, but firearms designed to cause maximin human carnage in the shortest amount of time).

And both deserve our attention.

Mental illness, because people who commit mass murder have some mental health condition found in a psychiatric textbook. They are either schizophrenic, psychotic, or sociopaths. The 1st two have treatment the last one, not so much.

Most people can spot someone who is psychotic or a schizophrenic who is decompensating. Odd stares, strange behavior, paranoia. Come walk with me in San Francisco, for many sleep on the streets and during the day they wave at bugs that don’t exist, rock back and forth to sooth unseen demons, and have shouting matches with invisible adversaries. They are desperately in need of mental health care, but for some reason can’t get it. Lack of insurance, marginalization, stigma, drugs, fear of the system, homelessness, lack of money to pay for treatment as many psychiatrists don’t accept insurance, paranoia, or the fact that they have to be an immediate danger to themselves or others to be forcibly treated.

Not everyone can spot a sociopath. They blend and ooze among humanity. Chameleons of destruction that look like the guy next door. On a small scale they cause contained mayhem, but if they are so inclined they could become the next Ted Bundy or Jim Jones. There is no treatment for sociopaths, although who knows if we had a better way to identify them early and start behavioral therapy?

While it is true that almost anything can be weaponized, Jones used poisoned Kool-Aid, modern day massacres on American soil involve guns. We don’t know whether the killer in Newton was schizophrenic, psychotic for some reason (there are several causes) or a sociopath, but we do know he had access to weapons of carnage. Had he been armed with a kitchen knife and an axe he would have not breached the security system, but even if he had he would have been stopped with far less loss of life.

Ask yourself, do you want someone descending into mental illness who is rapidly loosing their grip on reality or a sociopath careening out of control to have access to a semi-automatic weapon?

We need to fix the way we treat mental illness in America. We must remove the stigma and the barriers to care as well as research better treatment options. We also need to eradicate weapons that have the sole purpose of killing people with efficiency. These are not mutually exclusive discussions.

If we don’t do something, we’ll just keep asking ourselves, “How could this happen,” when we all know the answer. This happens because as a society we choose to let it happen and until we do something about it we will all continue to pay the price, some more than others.

Jennifer Gunter is an obstetrician-gynecologist and author of The Preemie Primer. She blogs at her self-titled site, Dr. Jen Gunter.

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  • Saman

    This is true in so many ways. We need to come together and understand united we stand and divided we fall. Too many young lives were taken on Friday. God bless.

    • Joe ThePimpernel

      You should put a sign on the front of your house saying that there are no guns in your house and home-invaders have no reason to fear you.

  • Joe ThePimpernel

    According to DOJ crime statistics, guns are used 2.5-million times per year to prevent violent crimes like rape, robbery, carjackings and home-invasions, 99% of the time without a shot being fired.


    But screw those 2.5 million people. Having them robbed or raped or carjacked is a small price to pay to ensure that robbers and rapists and home-invaders and carjackers and mass-murderers are safe.

    The elephant in the state-controlled media room is that people are buying guns in record numbers because they fear the US feral government and the rigid Marxist ideologue at its helm.

    They instinctively know that government is the most murderous force on earth, and their instincts are correct:

    Governments have murdered 262 million of their own citizens since 1900, and the overwhelming majority of those murders were perpetrated by Socialist/Communist/Marxist regimes

    Google ’20th Century Democide’ for documentation.

    Taking guns from the law-abiding is murder.

  • Rob Burnside

    Dr. Gunter makes many good points, which other contributors seem to have missed. Have we all become “strangers in a strange land”? There was a time, not all that long ago, when “loners” were rare and most were simply harmless eccentrics. Drug addiction, persistent war, implosion of family, religious, and political structure over the past fifty years have fractured our society beyond recognition, engendered more loners, and perhaps contributed to the rise in mass killings indirectly but just as surely as the availability of assault weapons. I’m not suggesting ‘the end is near” but rather the end of the end may be nearer now, after Newton. In other words, we’ve finally “bottomed out” and have nowhere to go but up. It’s time to make plowshares out of our swords, go back to the churches we left many years past, and learn to love one another again. And let’s consider re-instituting our own personal blue laws–one day a week with everything (computer, phone, TV, etc) unplugged and newfound free time devoted to family and friends. This sort of healing is up to us. We can’t expect the medical community to perform social miracles on our behalf.

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