On Mass Shootings

Once again we’ve suffered a tragedy in a school in which a very disturbed guy decided to take a lot of people with him to wherever one goes after this life. It’s upsetting. It also makes me angry.

Naturally, the topic of gun control is on everyone’s mind, and everyone is resigned to the fact that nothing will be done about it, despite popular opinion. For me it’s a no-brainer. No civilian needs an arsenal or an assault weapon. Bear arms all you want. Hunt all you want. But you don’t have to prepare for overkill. You’ve been watching Rambo too much. It’s absurd.

But I had a very fascinating talk recently with someone who has been in the mental health field here in Seattle for 40 years. She brought up some very interesting points. (I wasn’t taking any notes, so any errors are mine alone.)

She said that the number of people in Seattle who have been to the emergency room more than 50 times for mental health issues number in the thousands. Multiply that by every large city in the country and the figure becomes quite daunting.

And yet you cannot involuntarily admit these people for mental health treatment. Yes, there is the Baker Act which allows for a 72 hour hold, but after that, they are released. And it has been thus since Reagan discarded the Mental Health Systems act, which put many people back out on the streets.

Now imagine that you are a family member of someone who is obviously disturbed. You have been begging for help for them for years, but there’s no such help available. You’ve told the police that you are afraid he’ll do something violent. They tell you they can’t do anything until the crime is already committed. Chances are this relative is either homeless or living in your basement, and then you yourself are a prisoner in your own home. You hide your knives. You live in fear mixed with guilt and shame, and no one, NO ONE will help you.

But when this crazy relative of yours goes into some school or movie theater and opens fire, in the aftermath people blame you. They say, “His parents should have done something! How could his family be so blind?”

They are not blind, people. They are just not given the support that they so desperately need. Until we have clearly defined description of what this type of mental illness looks like, and the infrastructure to deal with it, and the legal ability to involuntarily admit such people (which apparently they have in England and their world hasn’t come to an end), this problem isn’t going to go away.

We are more than willing to throw money at the prison system, so these people can be housed after the damage has been done. And thanks to terrorists, we have Homeland Security. So expansive and expensive policy changes can be made. How much more death do we have to experience in the form of mass shootings before the mental health system is revamped?



15 thoughts on “On Mass Shootings

  1. lyn sutton

    Finally, someone willing to focus on the reasons why, not the method used.
    It’s a complex issue with many difficult questions like…Why is mental illness so common now? Why do we think mental illness can be cured with a magic pill?…
    We may not have the answers yet but the awareness created by posts like this is a place to start.

  2. Angiportus

    Part of the reason it’s so common is there’s so many more people for it to happen among. But that’s only part, and you have hit on one of the other parts.
    When it comes to involuntary commitment, though, I can recall reading about the days when people were locked up in mental hospitals for things that weren’t really crimes–one’s relatives could put one out of the way like that for being just eccentric, and so on–at least that’s what I seem to recall–and this has soured me and many others on locking people up too casually. But every day I see or hear people who make me nervous even though unarmed; I’m not sure what they will do…
    Your last 2 paragraphs really nail it. As for interim measures, check where the exits are in every public place you enter, and examine possible hiding places with an eye to whether they will provide cover, not just concealment. Try googling “how to survive a mass shooting”.
    Stay safe.

    1. It’s a sad state of affairs when we have to look for exits whenever we enter, but such is the world. And Yes, there should be a happy medium when it comes to involuntary commitment, but I’d say if your loved one has been to the ER for mental health issues 50 times, it’s time.

      1. lyn sutton

        And there are so many more that don’t go to an ER or mental health clinic for help. They’ve no idea they’re broken. I even know of some who were committed, then released with prescriptions that had mood altering side-effects that made them worse eventually. In our haste for a quick fix we only seem to compound the problems. Sound sane to you?

    2. lyn sutton

      Now days they put the mentally ill in jail for non-crimes, like vagrancy, because their illness left them homeless. The real crime is abandoning people out of fear and ignorance; looking the other way when we suspect a child is being abused; rejecting and ostracizing them at an early age for differences or oddness till they feel unsafe in society. We then abandon them to a system that is still in it’s experimental phase and trust it to fix the problems that we continue to create, We can’t begin to create a solution until we accept responsibility and stop blaming our creations.They are the by-products of our fears that we’ve over indulged in.

      1. And prisons are the last place the mentally ill need to be. They need help, not lock boxes. And if they have paranoia or violent tendencies because of their mental illness, that’s the last environment they ought to be in.

  3. lyn sutton

    As I said…It’s a complex issue with many difficult questions…unfortunately many of the answers are not easy to take but taking the alleged easy way out is what gets us into these messes to begin with…double sigh.

  4. Part of the problem is that, with school shootings, it started off with a few seriously crazy people doing the shooting, but now, lonely and depressed idiots are just following it like a trend.

      1. lyn sutton

        And even if mass shootings weren’t sensationalized and politicized in news and social media, people that messed up would just latch on to something equally destructive. Reasonable intervention is needed to keep them from reaching that point in the first place.

      2. You would think so, but the truth is, and I head a psychologist talking about this on NPR… just this morning… that doing what other people have already done is just plain easier. The first person to start a riot is much more committed and rebellious than the tenth or 100th person to join a riot. You could make the argument that anybody who kills another person for any reason other than self defense is suffering from some sort of mental issue. Obviously these copycats have trouble with decision making and anger management. But they aren’t always certifiably insane by any means.

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