What if the media covered mass shootings with an eye toward mental health?

Matthew Hoy
By Matthew Hoy on August 13, 2019

Over a two week period, gunmen killed 3 in Gilroy, Calif., 22 in El Paso, Texas, and 9 in Dayton, Ohio. So-called "assault weapons" (aka scary black rifle-looking guns) were used in all three attacks and the shooters had obvious mental health problems.

As was entirely predictable, the media immediately focused on guns, guns, guns. What guns were used? Where'd they get the guns? How many shots were fired? How big were the magazines?

Were they nuts? Yes, but GUNS!

And then comes the mistaken, but intensely held belief, that if we can just get rid of a certain kind of firearm then these sorts of things won't ever happen again.

But they will.

Sane people don't shoot up crowds of strangers

Without fail, there's something wrong inside the head of every mass shooter. Call it hate. Call it psychopathy. Call it sociopathy. There's something very wrong upstairs.

There's a level of self-centeredness that focuses their pain, their anger as the only valid feelings in the world. That anger, and pain, can, and should, be acted on.

They find online communities, like 8chan and others where other sick individuals goad them on. There's talk of setting "high scores" where the points are lives ended.

Get rid of the guns…

The latter is what the media focuses on, with no real comprehension of what it would really take, and cost, both in terms of money and lives lost, to get rid of the guns. AR-15 and AK-47 style rifles are functionally little different from a host of other semi-automatic rifles. From the Ruger Ranch Rifle (which actually fires the same cartridge as the AR-15) to the BM-59, there are plenty of rifles that don't fall into the "scary black rifles" category that can do the same damage.

Scary black rifles alone number more than 10 million. Add in firearms of comparable performance, that is, semi-automatic rifles, and you're probably looking at more than double that, include classics like the M-1 Garand and even the standard SKS that was used in the Bernie Bro shooting of Congressman Steve Scalise.

These rifles range in price from as little as $500 to more than $2,000, depending on specific parts and other options. A forced confiscation of these firearms, with restitution, could cost tens of billions of dollars.

And that's just the financial cost.

There is also going to be a cost in human lives. There are a not insignificant number of firearms owners who will resist this confiscation. When the police come for them there will be shooting. People will die.

This tally also would not include the lives lost to common criminals that are stopped today because people are allowed firearms to protect themselves. Counts of the legal, defensive use of firearms by the public each year varies from several hundred thousand to sometimes more than 2 million. It's not to say that each of those defensive uses stops a murder necessarily, but some of them certainly do.

And these are just the rifles. Handguns kill many more people each year than rifles. Gun-control advocates tend to forget this, but the worst mass shooting at a school remains the Virginia Tech massacre. That shooter used handguns.

…or treat the mental illness?

It's not to say there are no difficulties in identifying and treating the violent mentally ill. There are. However, the ultimate number of lives saved, both those of the mentally ill and the general public will be much greater. Why?

Because those predisposed to violence and hatred and who are determined to do evil aren't going to give up if, suddenly, firearms are nearly impossible to acquire.

This has been proven before with terrorist attacks, like the Boston Marathon bombing and the truck attack in Nice, France. You're not going to ban pressure cookers or box trucks.

What if the media focused on mental health?

We'd be a lot better off as a society if the media forced our public institutions, including schools and police departments, to be serious about violent individuals with obvious mental health problems.

The Parkland, Fla., shooter had bragged about being a future school shooter. He was a known, violent, quantity, but the school and police ignored what should have been crimes that would've disqualified him from purchasing a firearm.

The Dayton, Ohio, shooter had created both a kill list and a rape list while he was in high school, and people knew about it, but did nothing. This is not the kind of behavior a sane person exhibits.

Enforce existing laws; take mental health seriously

We can do better, and we have to do better. There are recent mass shooters (Sutherland Springs, Texas, and Charleston, S.C.) who would've been banned from acquiring the guns they used in mass shootings if the government had followed the laws and ensured their names were put into the FBI's NICS system. While this might have stopped the shootings that followed, it wouldn't take care of the innate evil.

We need to be able to put these people in mental institutions to get treatment.

This is one of the big problems with red flag laws. They operate as though the threat of a mentally unstable individual is gone once that person's guns have been confiscated.

If suicide is the concern, then the lack of a firearm doesn't solve the problem. People killed themselves long before guns were invented. Serial child molester Jeffrey Epstein didn't need a firearm to avoid justice.

If violence against others is a concern, then leaving the individual with a two ton automobile at their disposal isn't a good idea either.

We would accomplish much more as a society if we addressed the mental health issue. Going after firearms in a country with up to half a billion of them in private hands and where their possession is enshrined as a right in the constitution is like tilting at windmills.

One comment on “What if the media covered mass shootings with an eye toward mental health?”

  1. Who is going to pay for the institutions? Already, we've pretty much fully privatized healthcare and made mental healthcare a mockery unless it is for substance abuse. The mentally ill often do not have access to employers that offer (decreasingly) subsidized healthcare plans. So, are you suggesting universal mental healthcare? Who determines the criteria for admission to a mental health institution? Do we offer mental health checkups the way we offer physical ones today? The current conservative mindset of privatization of all things healthcare (except medicare because sacred cow) doesn't fit with the "mental health" response as it relates to shootings. In fact, Reagan basically gutted the Mental Health Systems Act of 1980 and there has been exactly no appetite on the right to improve any kind of mental health insurance since.


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