Gun Violence and Mental Health

Misdirected Blame Amid a Public Health Crisis

By Donna Marino

Donna Marino

It has been argued, a gun does not pull its own trigger, a person pulls the trigger. The ongoing debate continues as it misdirects blame and derails an effective solution to the death spiral crisis gripping America. It is not a political partisan issue. It is a public health issue that requires action by all legislators regardless of political party affiliation.

In 2018, there were over 300 mass shootings in the U.S. Four of the biggest mass shootings in the past 50 years took place in 2018. In the past decade alone, defenseless people, without warning, were massacred. The victims were a loved one, a family member, a friend, a co-worker, or a neighbor. It could have been anyone of us, regardless of our affiliations. It is an attack on anyone at any time. It instills fear, triggers anxiety, and conditions us to live a life in terror.

So, we ask why? We grapple to find a rational explanation for irrational behavior. In our state of bewilderment and anger, we struggle to comprehend the horror. We may find ourselves unable to wrap our minds around what is happening, and so we cast blame. We may blame the guns, gun owners, gun shops, the NRA, gun laws, the Second Amendment, and so it goes. At times, we may even blame the person who pulled the trigger. Well, what about that person? Who would do such a horrific thing?

Let’s talk about mental health in America. From shortages of treatment facilities and psychiatrists to bureaucratic barriers and blockages to comprehensive care, adequate access to mental health treatment is a challenge. Psychiatric hospitals have been closing, and inpatient beds for psychiatric patients are limited. Health insurance benefits for mental health treatment are minimal in comparison to the actual costs. Mental illness remains a problem, and our Federal and State legislators need to address the mental health crisis. Lives depend on it.

Creedmoor Psychiatric Center in Bellerose, Queens. Deinstitutionalization policy creating havoc in the community. New York Post op-ed by Dennis Saffran.

All too often, a criminal is perceived as a hostile member of society rather than a mentally ill person in need of mental health treatment. Some may argue criminals are not mentally ill. However, criminal behavior is sociopathic. Sociopaths are usually triggered by a history of anger, resentment, and feeling having been wronged or treated unfairly. They are individuals with severe antisocial behavior characterized by a lack of remorse, guilt or shame, and an inability to empathize with the pain and suffering of their victims. A sociopath carries a diagnosis of Antisocial Personality Disorder. 

Conversely, not all mentally ill individuals are sociopaths inclined to commit a crime. There are other serious mental health diagnoses which impair reality and judgment such as Schizophrenia, Psychosis, and Substance Abuse. Those who pull the trigger can be individuals with a past history of mental illness or perhaps have never been clinically diagnosed or treated prior to their crime.
The NRA has been blamed for gun violence in America. Recently, The American College of Physicians wrote a new policy paper confronting the NRA about firearm violence. In response, the NRA tweeted, “Someone should tell self-important anti-gun doctors to stay in their lane.” The friction continues, and so does the blame. The solution? Nowhere in sight, at least for now.

We must do more to address mental health and gun regulation legislation. Our communities must be swept clean of the illegal firearms easily purchased on our streets. It is much more difficult, perhaps even impossible, for a law-abiding citizen to be granted a gun permit for carry, premise or target in NYC than it is for a criminal to get their hands on an illegal firearm. However, the Second Amendment is our American right as intended by our forefathers. Disarming law-abiding citizens by blaming the Second Amendment is a derailment of what our forefathers intended.

Mass shootings are a problem, but they are also the symptom of a broken system. It is unproductive and ineffective to play a ping pong game of blame while we cry a silent scream unnoticed. It is not one group or another at fault. Look here, not there. Federal and State legislators need to work in tandem with mental health professionals and law enforcement to end the public health crisis infecting our country. We are patriots, and Americans calling upon our elected officials to walk across the aisle to work together. We cannot prevent all bad things from happening but we can fight to win against the challenges, and solve problems together.

Donna Marino, LCSW is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker in New York and Florida and member of the Queens Village Republican Club. Her private practice is located in Fresh Meadows, NY.

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