On Thursday, October 1, a lone gunman entered a writing class at the Umpqua Community College in Roseberg, Oregon and shot and killed 9 people as well as injuring 9 others. Before police could apprehend him, he killed himself (Unfortunately, I cannot find the names of his victims. If you can, please let me know. Thank you.).
This was a horrific crime, and the gunman was clearly not a decent human being with some sort of problem either understanding that people have a right to life, that he should not be judge or executioner, or simply understanding that having a gun does not equal getting to do whatever he wants. Any person that would willfully and knowingly kill others – for whatever reason – has some sort of serious problem.
However, that does not make him mentally ill and certainly does not mean that mentally ill people are more likely to commit violent crimes. In fact, a Centers for Disease Control study showed that from 2001 – 2010, less than 5% of gun-related killings were committed by people with diagnosed mental illnesses while another study showed that people with mental illnesses are more likely to be the victim of a violent crime rather than the perpetrator (65% — 130% more likely for those with schizophrenia, the illness people are most likely to bring up.). And yet you still have assclowns like Donald Trump, Ben Carson, and the NRA calling for their registration, regulation, and criminalization!
Such an attitude is insulting and criminally harmful. While some mentally illnesses are characterized by aggressive behavior and some people with mental illnesses display such traits, the vast majority of people do not. According to another study, only about 4% of the violence in the US can in any way be attributed to people with mental illnesses. People with mental illnesses are more likely to display self-harming, not outwardly aggressive behavior. Because, you know, mental illness is a mental disease that manifests itself internally. Symptoms are much more likely to be about personality traits, feelings, emotions, anxieties, and the perception of reality. So, despite what the media/Hollywood insists on showing us, people with mental illnesses are not violent, homeless people shouting and urinating in the subway. Rather, they are human beings with legitimate diseases who could benefit from medical help and social support – just like everyone else with a non-mental illness.
We must stop burdening people with mental illnesses with the stigma of brutality. They are already a feared and marginalized community. It is already hard enough to get any kind of medical attention for mental illness in this country. Legislators already create laws that unfairly affect people with mental illnesses. People with diseases should not be judged for the universe arbitrarily designating them a disease.
Instead, what we should do is hold the people who actually commit violent crimes accountable: gun owners, white men, (white) teenage boys, and police officers. We should also be more willing to recognize certain attitudes such as racism, misogyny, and extreme religious views as harmful and, as a society, work to curb them. No, that doesn’t mean taking away all guns, chemically castrating all men, or locking up everyone with a Jesus fish on their car, but we do need to stop hiding behind, “Well, that’s just my opinion,” willfully disseminating ignorant viewpoints, and not treating others with respect and dignity simply because they’re not us. And it can start now with not throwing people with mental illnesses under the bus. They deserve better. They need better. We can do better.