Saturday, December 22, 2012

Gun control and mental health

I've purposely waited for the NRA to make their public statement before expressing my views regarding gun control, as well as how it should relate to mental health. Now that they've held a press-conference (however terrifying), I'm weighing in. 

The idea that every person treated and/or medicated for any type of mental illness should be entered into a national database is deplorable and disgusting. One in four American adults experience a mental health problem in any given year, yet the U.S. Surgeon General determined over a decade ago that 'the overall contribution of mental disorders to the total level of violence in society is exceptionally small.' (NAMI, 2012). This ranges from a woman suffering from post-partum depression to a soldier experiencing anxiety after returning home from war to individuals who suffer from chronic mental illness such as bipolar disorder or schizophrenia. Are all of the illnesses of the same caliber? Should all of these individuals be labeled for the rest of their lives? Who gets to determine how severe the illness must be for an individual not to receive a gun permit? Is everyone who makes a poor decision with a gun mentally ill or is every mentally ill person going to shoot people?

In my third trimester of pregnancy, I began to experience overwhelming anxiety and panic attacks due to the extreme changes in hormones and brain chemistry caused by creating a new life. Once K was born, these feelings further intensified and remained until I finished nursing her. This information is in my permanent medical history. Should I not be allowed to own a gun  because of anxiety six years in my past? Better yet, my husband has bipolar disorder. Should I be denied a gun permit because we live in the same household?

David believes that it's not in his best interest to own a gun, due to his depressive and suicidal tendencies. This is a decision he has made to keep himself safe. He receives consistent care from his psychologist and psychiatrist. If they were of the belief that he was a threat to others, then I believe they are in a position professionally and ethically to weigh in on the matter. But the NRA, who has never met David and has no idea how his illness effects him with regard to violent tendencies, does not have that right. Nor should they. 

I do not own a gun. I am not, however against them for personal protection, hunting, and yes, recreational purposes. I do believe there is a line, though. Does anyone need a fully automatic assault rifle for any of the uses stated above? No. Will a person who truly wants one get one legally or illegally? Maybe, but not always likely. In many instances in which guns are the weapons used to cause devastation (e.g., Sandy Hook, Columbine, etc.) these weapons were obtained legally. Whether or not the incidents would have occurred if these individuals had a more difficult time obtaining the weapons is truly an unknown variable. 

Irregardless, blanketing the entire segment of society who have been treated for a mental illness at some point in their lives is not the answer. Doing such will only lead to fewer people reaching out and receiving the help they need in fear of being permanently labeled. The stigma associated with mental illness will grow, not decline as so many have been striving towards for years. 

I am appalled by the recent statement by the NRA. Yet another strike against those trying to lead normal lives. 


  1. This is an interesting post and hits on a number of issues. When my son was first born (25 years ago) I was adamantly opposed to having guns in the house. Even though I was raised on a ranch, my dad didn't hunt and there just weren't guns around. My uncle was a hunter and a conservationist - a responsible gun owner. My ex-husband got into competitive shooting and got me to fire a target pistol one afternoon and it was a blast. Next thing I knew, I went through NRA gun safety training (they did not recommend a gun as first-line home defense, but did recommend a large noisy dog). For a few years, we would go out shooting, long after we divorced, and he eventually gave me my own handgun for self-protection. When my son started toddling around, I unloaded the gun and put it away and separate from the ammo. I haven't fired it since 1995 and honestly, I don't even know which box it is stored in at this point. All this by way of saying that my feelings have evolved over time. It turns out that my son has autism and is on meds to help him control his emotions. In no universe that I know of would he be capable of planning and executing a massacre such as Sandy Hook. Is he capable of picking up a gun and firing it in the middle of a tantrum? Maybe. He has told me that after I die, he is turning in my gun. He feels things like Sandy Hook deeply and like most Americans, I have been an emotional wreck. I have been on antidepressants for years and went through four years of therapy some years ago. It never occurred to me until reading this post that I might be one of those that could be targeted. I could live with it if that were the case. One of my best friends lost her bipolar husband to suicide a few years ago after an increasingly dysfunctional marriage and a lot of verbal and physical abuse - mixed with alcohol. We all know that guns, alcohol and anger don't mix well and most perpetrators of domestic abuse are under the influence of alcohol or some other drug (not marijuana, however). Why would anyone need an assault rifle or a semi-automatic gun magazine that holds 100 bullets? Not for hunting. Not for home defense. Not for competitive shooting. Buyers at gun shows should be subject to the same background checks as a buyer at Wal-Mart. Individuals who are a threat to themselves or others should not have access to guns. That's what makes the Sandy Hood massacre so tragic. His mother was apparently convinced that "they" were coming and she would need to defend her family. She knew her son had severe emotional problems, maybe or maybe not in conjunction with Asperger's -- the two are not the same thing at all. She bought the guns, taught him how to shoot, took him to the target range and died first. Kids are dying every day on the streets due to guns. I don't know what the answer is -- I do believe in responsible gun ownership for those who are so inclined. However, I do know that we have to start somewhere to change the culture of guns -- and the mindset of politicians who are afraid to stand up to the NRA. Sorry to vent - it's been building up. @sweetnonnie (twitter)

    1. Martha- don't apologize for venting; I appreciate your comments. This is a hard topic to talk about, but we must address the situation. I agree that typically those with Aspergers are non-violent and this is not a crime indicative of this syndrome. I don't know how to change these mind sets, but something must be done.