Gun Violence and Mental Illness

The current vogue among media pundits is to attribute mass killings and the epidemic of gun violence to mental illness. There are two problems with this speculation: it’s not accurate and it creates more problems for innocent people. Attributing gun violence to mental illness is an easy and dangerous cop-out, promoted by an unusual alliance of the ill-intentioned NRA and ill-informed Liberals. Consider these two facts: most people convicted of gun violence are not mentally ill, and most mentally ill people are not violent. I think many decent people are easily swayed by the mental illness explanation because what these people do is inexplicable without self-reflection. All this speculation about mental illness simply stigmatizes the mentally ill and makes their lives even more difficult. It creates a convenient scapegoat. Leave the mentally ill alone.

If this epidemic of gun violence in our country is not due to mental illness, what is the cause (besides the ridicilous availability of automatic weapons)? I believe the root cause is that American society is violent. In one sense, the NRA is right: taking away guns will not solve the problem of violence (although gun control will limit the damage done). We live in a sick, violent society. For example, consider video games. The vast majority of video games, and virtually all of the best-selling video games, are extremely violent. Consider our entertainment industry …  action movies (i.e. movies with violence) are the highest revenue generators. With our kids spending hours playing “games” that reward killing, or with their parents spending hours watching violent television shows, what else would you expect? It’s reflected in our economy as well. Consider our economy … what other country has conducting war as a structural part of their economy?

The truth is that there is a pervasive acceptance of violence in our society and it couldn’t exist without the complicity of you and me. Without an individual commitment to refuse to subsidize violence in our own lives there can be no fundamental change in our society. So the next time you turn off the news of another mass shooting to watch “The Walking Dead” consider your contribution to problem.

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