The Santa Clara
November 9, 2017
A little over a month ago, I wrote an article addressing the GOP’s standard line in response to national tragedies after the deadliest mass shooting in American history took place in Las Vegas. It always happens without fail; a gunman kills dozens of people—prompting pundits and politicians on the right to send thoughts and prayers to the residents of the [insert affected community]. They insist that America’s lax gun laws have absolutely nothing to do with the senseless act of violence that just occurred in [insert location of most recent tragedy], and they spontaneously develop a vested interest in mental illness.
All those steps amount to the same end every time: the most grossly oversimplified answer to the most intricate, uncomfortable question our country faces. “We do not have a gun problem in this country; we have a mental health problem,” they’ll say. That is not true; it is not that convenient, and it is a testament to the NRA’s chokehold on our legislature that we have not been able to fully understand and remedy the epidemic of mass shootings in America.
This past Sunday, 26 people were killed in a Baptist church in Sutherland Springs, Texas by Air Force veteran, David Kelley. And like clockwork, the GOP has already started pointing fingers at mental illness.
At a news conference in Japan, President Trump dismissed any and all talk on gun control and stated that “mental health is [the] problem here.” Admittedly, David Kelley did have a brush with the mental health care system when he was admitted to a psychiatric hospital in 2012. But to pin the blame entirely on his mental health is to address an incredibly difficult issue with the most basic answer possible.
Mental illnesses are scary to a lot of people, and those with mental health problems in this country are often construed as being dangerous and unpredictable. But those premises are fundamentally flawed.
According to Liza Gold, a forensic psychiatrist who teaches at Georgetown University, 98 percent of gun violence in the United States is not perpetrated by people with mental illnesses—a group of people making up only 18 percent of the adult population in the United States. Furthermore, mentally ill people with guns are more likely to use them on themselves as opposed to others. Mental health care in the United States needs to be assessed and improved, but the idea that such actions, alone, will miraculously remedy the seemingly endless barrage of mass shootings specific to the United States is not well founded.
So what are the root causes behind these tragedies? The truth is that we do not have the full answer, and that is in large part because the NRA will not let us find it. In 1996, Congress passed the NRA-backed Dickey Amendment, a bill that effectively bullied the Center for Disease Control away from researching the causes of gun violence by stripping funding for such programs and forbidding the organization from spending funds to promote or advocate gun control.
The Amendment was a bureaucratic nightmare for the Center’s directors who eventually opted to essentially do away with its gun violence field entirely. Since then, the NRA has worked tirelessly and successfully to keep funding away from research on the nature of gun violence, so the organization can continue painting national tragedies as natural occurrences perpetrated by a segment of society that the general public does not truly understand.
Donald Trump and the rest of the the right blaming this tragedy exclusively on mental illness means they are either deflecting or in denial. The conversation on where to go from here is tough and requires a very frank, critical reevaluation of gun laws in the United States. Understanding the nature of gun violence is integral to treating the scourge of mass shootings that plagues this country.
Congress needs to get out of the NRA’s vice grip and finally allow legitimate research on these trends. Unfortunately, that is infinitely easier said than done; the gun lobby runs this country, and until legislators are willing to stand up to organizations like the NRA, we can send our thoughts and prayers to [insert location of next mass shooting].
Jay Fuchs is a senior communication major.