It’s a depressingly familiar pattern here in the United States. Social media blows up with news about the latest shooting. Whether it’s at a school, a bar, a movie theater, or literally anywhere, it is always the same story. A white man walked into a place and opened fire. Numbers start climbing. 2 dead, then 5, then 10, then 21 until finally the numbers plateau at one that is too high and too depressing. Finally, the shooter is identified, a white man with a deranged look in his eye.
The pattern continues as we discuss the tragedy, and try and make sense of the pain. Lots of people, conservatives and liberals both, start a discussion about mental health. Because only a crazy person would use an AR-15 on an innocent crowd of people, right? Maybe the shooter is a lone wolf, or maybe he was in the boy’s scouts. Maybe he was bullied. But he was certainly mentally unwell, deranged. Mental illness is thrown around as the one true cause for this horrible tragedy.
But here’s the deal. Those shooters aren’t mentally ill. According to the American Psychiatric Association people with serious mental illness represent less than 1% of all yearly mass shootings. It’s not the crazy people doing this. It’s the angry, privileged, white men who see others as deserving of their violence.
There’s a serious problem with equating mental illness with violence. It produces an awful stigma for people diagnosed with mental illnesses, making getting help and treatment difficult. People with mental illnesses need our support, not the constant stream of news that tells them they are the problem. Mentally ill people cause about 3% of all violent crime annually, and very little of that involves guns.
It makes no sense to have laws that target the mentally ill when it comes to gun control. It won’t change anything. Keeping guns from them won’t stop the real perpetrators. We need comprehensive gun control; laws that will keep everyone to the same high standards for gun ownership. Targeting the mentally ill only increases the stigma around these disorders and lets the problems with gun violence in America continue unchecked. It doesn’t help anyone.