The Mass Shooting in Las Vegas
The never-ending national argument about gun control returned to the forefront of American political discourse in the aftermath of the recent mass shooting in Las Vegas. After every such tragedy, the same interest groups emerge to make the same arguments, while the same pundits and politicians rehash the same debate. This predictable political theater almost seems to be some sort of perverse national tradition – one that happens with frightening regularity. Every participant thoroughly dissects the circumstances of the latest tragedy in a search for any information they can use as supporting evidence for their argument.
One fact, in particular, has received an alarming amount of coverage. An alarming trend already exists in these debates that unfairly demonizes people with psychiatric disorders – and with this context in mind, it is both discouraging and alarming that so much attention has been focused on a psychiatric prescription the killer once had.
It goes without saying that seemingly everyone has strong and varying opinions about what should be done to stop gun violence and what to blame for the increasing prevalence of spree shootings. This debate is so polarizing, studies show a person’s attitude towards gun control and firearm ownership is often the single strongest factor for predicting which political party they will vote for. In that context, note that this is not a post about gun control. It is, however, a rebuttal to a specific argument generally made by supporters of the Republican Party.
The Hypocrisy of the Republican Party
It’s a common refrain to hear, “banning guns won’t stop anything. The real problem is mental illness!” The irony of such a statement, though unintended, is palpable. The politicians who reject gun control reform arguments are the very same people who have repeatedly tried to repeal the Affordable Care Act, which millions and millions rely on for health insurance coverage. What’s even worse is that people with serious mental illnesses tend to have a disproportionately low income, and are thus far more likely than others to rely on health insurance provided by the ACA.
In the aftermath of any mass shooting, Congress usually reacts by considering some sort of sensible gun control legislation. The Republicans, however, always oppose it en masse, often parroting the talking points of the National Rifle Association, such as “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people.” At the same time, however, they’re proposing legislation to “repeal and replace Obamacare” that would leave more than twenty million people without health insurance. Those who rely on Obamacare will be without realistic access to therapists, psychologists, psychiatrists, and any sort of prescription medication.
Across the country, many Republican state governments are also cutting the availability of mental health care services. Earlier this year, Donald Trump even repealed a regulation that made it harder for people with psychiatric disabilities to purchase firearms. They claim a lack of mental healthcare causes all these shootings – but not only are they taking mental health coverage away from tens of millions of people, they have even literally made it much easier for the “mentally ill” to buy any gun they want!
Debunking the Myth
The Republican Party’s rhetoric blames mental health issues but their actual record proves that’s not what they believe, or they surely would have done something about it. At the very least, they surely wouldn’t have repealed the only existing regulation that was doing something about it. Their words are clearly empty, and they only target the mentally ill as a scapegoat. Actual facts support this conclusion: a recent study from Duke University kept track of 81,704 people for a decade and found that people with serious mental health problems are actually slightly less likely to shoot someone than the general population. This data shows that opponents of gun control have decided to start demonizing people with mental health issues for literally no reason.
Nowhere has this demonization been more clear than with the situation of Stephen Paddock, the Las Vegas shooter. The media discovered he had been prescribed Valium and went wild with possible explanations. Pundits noted its potential side effect of “aggression” and “irritability” as if it was somehow the magic answer that perfectly explained how someone could intricately plan a way to target hundreds of innocent bystanders and go through with it. Commentators speculated what other kinds of medication he was on and used it as a pretext to condemn all psychiatric medication as toxic chemicals.
In truth, Paddock was prescribed a single bottle of Valium. That means it was just one bottle of fifty pills, ten milligrams each. He received this prescription over three months. It was his only prescription since 2011. Whatever possessed Stephen Paddock to shoot hundreds of innocent people, it was not a bottle of 50 small pills he got over 100 days before the incident.
Hours and hours of commentary reinforced the total fiction that people with mental health needs were somehow intrinsically more likely to go on a shooting spree. This sort of speculation accomplishes nothing except furthering the discrimination against people who receive mental health care. The truth is that I myself have a mental illness, and I’m not some sort of unstable “psychotic” that will go on a homicidal rampage at the slightest provocation. I’m just a normal person, like anyone else, except that I need medical treatment to do certain things others might take for granted. I’m not a killer. I’m not your scapegoat. If you can’t accept the need for gun control, then at least find someone else to blame.
Justin Coleman is a student. He loves books and board games. His interests are maps, politics, elections, Latin America, Greece, feminism, the environment, PredictIt, Paradox games, soccer, and music you probably haven’t heard of. He has been journaling for over a decade to process the intense emotions and mood swings of his bipolar disorder. You can connect with Justin on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.