Tuesday, January 11, 2011

SHOOTINGS: A PUBLIC HEALTH PROBLEM


Massacres don't look so unbelievable these days, do they? We hardly hear anymore, "I never imagined it would happen here." It's finally undeniable that it does happen here and there, so let's just accept that and move on, okay? The shooter was another crazy guy who exploded unpredictably, right? I mean, when your number's up, it's up. What are you gonna do?

Indeed. A visiting anthropologist would call us a fatalistic people. "They barely inhabit their lives," she'd say. "Instead they observe them as if they were the audience. Their voracity for entertainment has surpassed their ability to respond, so responsibility has atrophied. And hey, get this: they once called themselves the free and the brave."

We don't have to live with these murders.

Here's a fact that may surprise you: almost all Americans believe certain people shouldn't have access to firearms. Like three-year-olds, for example. Or convicted felons, or terrorists. Or people who are mentally ill. The late Charlton Heston, former president of the National Rifle Association, stated in an NRA website video, “…we all agree that guns don’t belong in the hands of people who are mentally incompetent, so gun-buy background checks ought to include mental record checks…”

But hold on here: who creates these mental records? Who defines sanity? Will men in white coats come for me if I disagree with the mayor? That is, I'm not about to hand a shotgun to a mentally ill person, but on the other hand, I don't want to rely on some "expert's" word about who's mentally ill, or for that matter who's sane in an insane situation or who's just being their own eccentric selves.

One has to sympathize with those who claim psychiatry isn't scientific, for while there's plenty of skill and wisdom, there truly is little science. For example, psychiatrists determine what is and isn't normal by a show of hands. At their profession's 1975 conference, they voted to move homosexuality from the disorder list to the normal column. In the same way, the American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic Statistical Manual committee recently voted Narcissistic Personality off the roster, no doubt because it's been mainstreamed. These revisions and others will be revealed in the DSM Fifth Edition, to be published in 2013.

Given psychiatry's subjectivity and the spotiness of gun law enforcement, there's no shortage of cracks through which the mentally ill can fall. Outrage following the Tucson tragedy is sure to expand the responsibility for addressing the issue from law enforcement into public health. This is sensible, two heads being better than one. 

Me, I have no answers to offer, only questions hopefully to stimulate creative discussion. If we fail to disarm psychotics, it is our own mental health that needs to be questioned.

1 comment:

  1. The Times gets inundated with comments that then few read...while blogs like this should be alive with dialogue and commentary, but seem relegated to a lone corner of vast, borderless cyberspace--I had echoed your above sentiments, but when I tried to respond via the previous post, there seems to be a glitch with the comments, as you noted has occurred in the past...So I enclose below my thoughts that have not made it to the Times site-- indeed, we are a mentally ill society when violence is only a problem here, when we are directly threatened by it, but denial continues to serve us well as we blindly let our tax dollars be used to fund war and shameful indefinite detention on no charges.
    ~~~~~~~~~
    We descry violence in our own country, while never mentioning how violent war is. When there is a shooting here, suddenly we understand what killing is...but as long as the newspapers keep war off the front page, we never think of our hypocrisy...we should be a nation of committed pacifists for the hue and cry against violence we hear on these editorial pages!

    Instead, January 11 was the 10th anniversary of the opening of Guantanamo prison, with no mention of this lamentable anniversary in the ostensibly "liberal" press. (Thanks Miami Herald http://www.hispanicbusiness.com...
    and Russia Today http://rt.com...

    I donned an orange jumpsuit and black hood and joined members of Catholic charities, 9/11 Families for a Peaceful Tomorrow, Witness Against Torture, Defending Dissent Foundation, Center for Constitutional Rights and others, because we understand that if we were faceless, voiceless, and thrown in prison indefinitely with no hope of charge or trial, we would hope people on the outside would advocate for us.

    The evidence, that has been difficult to elicit, overwhelmingly suggests that the vast majority of these men were turned in for large sums of money by community members in desperately impoverished circumstances (just as is occurring here in the U.S. with FBI sting operations to look for "domestic terror cells.")

    We marched with hands behind our back, hooded, and under the command of a fatigue-clad "military command" from the White House down long blocks to the Department of Justice, every bit as vulnerable and anonymous as the current group of detainees who, we are simply told, are "the worst of the worst"--an argument anyone could have made of us, since we, too, were faceless and voiceless.

    Civil conversation can only occur when all people are given the most fundamental right to be heard and represented in a court of law. As we demand kinder speech this morning, I can only think of those who, literally, are silenced in this shameful action by our government.

    No matter how civil we may congratulate ourselves for being, this is a civil injustice of the highest order.

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