I’m Crazy But I’ve Never Killed Anyone

I think there might be more to gun violence than mental illness

Disclaimer: Despite warnings not to politicize incidents of tragic mass murders — the ones wherein children and pregnant women are gunned down in church or at school — I think it’s time we must speak frankly and openly about gun violence and, specifically, its causes. Because, I fear, if we wait until enough time has passed since the last mass shooting, we’ll all be dead; one occurs, statistically, every single day in this country, meaning there’s never enough time.I feel that the actions which are most hurtful and disrespectful to the victims of gun violence are not conversations about it, but instead, inaction to prevent further tragedies.

I am tired of being the one to blame for the death of others.

Every day, I take my pills, I make my appointments, and I live my life the best that I can. Millions of other do, too. But now, it’s nearly a weekly occurrence that we’ll be told that we are a danger.

Each time someone opens fire in a safe place—a theater, a church, a school, a music festival—we’re urged not to politicize these deaths. We are not supposed to mention policy changes or trends or potential solutions.

With the exception of one area that is apparently quite safe for politicization, which is that of mental health and mental illness.

Regardless of the details of a mass shooting in this country, if the suspect is a “normal guy” (i.e., a white man, often with a history of violence), lawmakers will ultimately pivot away from the firearm that he used and toward the brain that helped him use it. They will grimmace if reporters ask about NRA contributions, they will offer their thoughts and prayers, and they will espouse a renewed belief in “treating mental illness.”

Guns don’t kill people, they’ll tell you — untreated mental illness does.

But I have to tell you, as a person who lives with mental illness — and who has gone long, long stretches without treatment of any kind — I have never been able to commit a mass murder with just my mind. I have never, even in my darkest hours, wanted to pursue the tools to do so, knowing full well how easy they would be to get.

I don’t think it’s because I’m somehow less crazy than anyone else. I don’t think it’s because my mental illness is some sort of different, non-lethal stripe.

Let’s see.

There must be something more to it than just mental illness, right? Something that everyone here has in common?

What
Do
They
Have
In
Common
?

Is it possible that the connection is not mental illness — something that 9.8 million people live with in the United States every day — but instead, the compounding factors that can turn untreated mental illness into a mass murder?

Perhaps this is too political to point out but I’m having a difficult time not drawing the through-line here. Not finding those compounding factors.

Compounding factors like toxic masculinity. Compounding factors like a culture of violence which offers firearms — especially the big, especially lethal ones — as a serviceable substitution for social capital or power.

Compounding factors like the fact that big guns make sad men feel more powerful and that we continue to tell them that that’s ok.

Time and again, lawmakers will say there is nothing to be done—you can’t legislate away mental illness. You can’t legislate away access to firearms. You can only hope and think and pray.

And yet, we have managed to legislate away access to health care in many ways—and in fact, the very same politicians who lament the role of mental illness in mass shootings are the ones who have proposed dramatic cuts to Medicaid and to mental health funding in public schools.

Meanwhile, the federal government has done next to nothing to improve access to mental health care; it is left almost entirely to the states, who have seen their funding for such services ebb.

Access to firearms, though, is easy in the United States. The expiration of the assault weapon ban made it especially so, and tangibly changed the culture around gun violence. Not only is the world post-ban less safe for civilians, but the availability of high-capacity firearms has also played a huge role in attacks on law enforcement officers.

When it’s easier to gain access to a firearm than to ongoing, affordable, sustained treatment for mental illness, we must correct the imbalance and improve access to one while decreasing access to the other. Instead, we have done neither.

But we still continue to hear that the answer is clear: It’s the fault of the mentally ill. They are to blame. Not the laws. Not the high cost of health care. Not even the persistent stigma around men getting help for their feelings—or men having feelings at all.

And every time there is a shooting, that stigma is etched in a little deeper.

Men in the United States seek mental health care at alarmingly low rates—and, psychologists have determined, it’s not biological. Instead, many men have been socialized to handle their demons on their own.

This is deadly in several ways; in additional to mass shootings, lethal domestic violence, and other instances of explosive emotion, men are also more likely to take their own lives.

If you are a man, if you know a man, if you love a man, or even if you have any empathy for men at all, you should want to see more, not less, funding for mental healthcare treatment. You should want to see more, not less, conversation about the strength that is takes to seek help.

In many ways, the speed with which we wag a finger at the nebulous nature of “mental illness” following a shooting is one of the greatest, most pernicious disservices we can do for American men.

But then, maybe it’s easier to blame a biological issues than a social one. Maybe it’s easier to determine that some brains are just dangerous.


There is no doubt in my mind that after publishing this article, I’ll be told that it is shameless and disgusting for me to politicize yet another tragedy—to which I would say, it’s already been done.

When the President says that mental illness, and not access to firearms, is the reason we all should be carrying more weapons to church, he has politicized it. Because mental health—and mental healthcare—are already political.

Our bodies are already political, whether they are alive or dead, in fear or in pain, in therapy or untreated.

I can’t help but feel like we would see the lack of mental healthcare, of awareness about mental illness and its realities, if we had a lobby as strong or pockets as deep as the NRA. But it’s hard to build that kind of movement when we’re constantly being told that now is not the time and that we are to blame.

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