gun control
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Gun Control and the Social Stigma of Mental Illnesses

Recent school shootings have rekindled the conversation about gun control, but supporters seem to forget their propositions' impacts on mentally ill people.
April 11, 2018
8 mins read

The Parkland school shooting has rekindled the discussion on gun violence and gun control. Previous conversations on the subject of gun control and their consequential controversy have been tiresome to many Americans, especially those who have just grown accustomed to the gun culture.

Debates following shooting incidents usually lasts a couple of weeks at best before they are drowned out by the constant stream of news and distractions. However, this time is different.

In the aftermath of this massacre, the victims took to social media to publicly shame legislators for their failed actions. The Parkland victims also have taken their message across the country, participating in walk-outs and marches in order to ensure that their voice was heard. Coined the “March for Life,” this movement begun a nationwide conversation about gun control with the power in the hands of the victims.

Despite its widespread impacts, “March for Life” are not flawless in its execution. Its pitfalls reside in the ableist language used against mentally ill people. I, along with many others, welcome policies that would restrict assault weapons, close gun shows and gun sale database and make background checks mandatory.

These policies are needed in order to prevent gun violence crimes to happen. Yet, there is a fine line between strict measures to guarantee gun owner’s mental stability and ableism.

It is incredible that the Parkland victims have started up a conversation about more in-depth measures to ensure proper gun ownership. However, what is not so great is the demonization of mentally ill people in the language used in its proposition. One of the most controversial policy proposals is that mental health professionals work with law enforcement in order to prevent mass shootings.

In truth, this would mean that therapist and doctors would be turning their client’s information over to the authority, promoting the idea that the mentally ill are somehow more violent than other people.

According to the supporters’ manifesto, which was written in order to advocate their policy stances, the Parkland victims have claimed that “Many of those who commit mass shootings suffer from these kinds of illnesses.” This is a completely false statement, as less than 1 percent of all mass shootings are committed by people with a serious mental illness.

In fact, people with mental illness have a historically higher chance of suffering from violence than that of mentally sound people. Consequently, these conversations about mental illness and gun control are not only non-productive, but they are out of focus and harmful to those who are struggling with mental illnesses.

It is disappointing to see such a left-leaning group as that of the Parkland victims lack any knowledge on the mentally ill and violence. This is only the surface of a history of unfair treatments that mentally ill people receive from the people.

Undiagnosed and untreated people with mental problems are 16 times more likely to be killed by law enforcement even though there is no evidence of them being a violent group. It is no surprise then that the mentally ill have a deep seeded fear of the police, which only worsens their already bad relationship with law enforcement, who are meant to help protect them.

To many advocates of the mentally ill, the demonization of mental problems in public policies would end up damaging the community instead of helping them. They believe that the police would only increase if law enforcement were given more control over those with mental illnesses and more access to their information.

The community and its allies took to social platforms, such as Twitter, to protest the language and policies sponsored by the “March for Life.” They fear that the alienation of mentally ill people in the languages of progressive movements and public policy will ignite a fear among the community and results in people with mental illnesses hiding their condition even more.

The history of mentally ill people and the community, especially the law enforcement, is full of brutality and barbarism. This includes (but is certainly not limited to), unlawful jailing, forced sterilization, lobotomy and electroshock therapy. For example, 250,000 mentally ill and handicapped people died in Nazi Germany under the “T4 program” during the Holocaust.

Such incidents make it impossible to look away from the potential damage of such anti-non-neurotypical-people policy. They have had to put up a long fight to ensure they had basic human rights, and it is the new generation’s job not to let their effort go to waste.

Ignoring the historical context when discussing the mentally ill is not an option. Telling the mentally ill that they should trust authority figures that they know have historically done them harm is not an option, either. The solution to our current gun problem in America is not to blame the non-neurotypical people for what is happening.

Sensitive information, such as how typically mentally ill people are non-violent, should be treated with care and proper verification before it becomes readily available for public consumption.

This is not to say that the Parkland victims are horrible for not understanding the devastating consequences of their language and propositions. They are young people attempting to bring changes after witnessing a horrific act of violence themselves, and their courage to go up against the established order is to be applauded and admired.

The Parkland victims have taken some accountability for the lack of intersectionality in the movement, which suggests improvements and more inclusion in the future development of their movement. Not all movements are immediately perfect and cannot be expected to be so, and thus they need to evolve in order to fit the best needs of everyone, not just those leading the movement.

Likewise, the “March for Lives” is hardly the first anti-gun movement to bring up the mentally ill as a scapegoat. These conversations have been happening since the shooting at Columbine nearly two decades ago.

I am sure that many readers can remember a time where they either heard of or participated in a conversation which went along the lines of “that school shooter was just crazy.” It’s easy to claim that a person, who goes into a school with no other intention but to harm, is just “crazy.”

Yet constant linking of mental illness and violence deeply affects those who have already suffered enough from social stigma and will do nothing but prevent those who need help to come forward.

Kayla Morosco, Chatham University

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Kayla Morosco

Chatham University
Creative Writing

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