Face It, America - Mental Health Is the Real Root of These Mass Shootings

Face It, America - Mental Health Is the Real Root of These Mass Shootings
AP Photo/Ben Gray

Here we are again with yet another convulsion of conscience about our nation’s latest mass shooting. The murders, of course, are awful. But the ensuing “national conversations” are too frequent. So very tedious. And, in the end, utterly useless.

That’s because Americans don’t listen to each other anymore. They talk at each other. They staple their preferred narrative onto the immediate tragedy as proof of their case. Everyone else should shut up.

Because if your family is not involved, these tragedies’ aftermaths are all about how things look. Touching flower arrays at the scene. Thoughts and prayers.

A visit by a president in a dark suit to be seen apparently consoling survivors, giving a stout statement for the cameras about violence never solving anything, vowing change so this senseless act never happens again. Precise details conveniently left ’til later.

Does anyone believe any president’s promises anymore, especially during mourning times like this Buffalo one? These immediate vows usually require acts by Congress — which has its own disparate thoughts on what needs doing. And hasty proposals made during photo ops ultimately get paralyzed by that body’s own fractious factions.

Some proponents on all sides may genuinely believe their case. Some seek profit, political fame. There is nothing innately wrong with national conversations – if any of them actually ever did anything.

But they don’t. Even in election years. They do nothing – absolutely nothing – except fill up a blizzard of news cycles for media that revel in conflict featuring pols, alleged ministers, and other angry folks playing to the cameras that gobble up sadness, violence, and tears like M&M’s for the eyes.

Professed passions and real pains eventually subside. This week’s will too. Until the next outbreak.

Remember all the results of the national conversation after the horrific 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre when a 20-year-old used his mother’s gun to kill 26 people, 20 of them also kids?

No, you don’t. There were none.

It was such a devastating time near the holidays that Barack Obama put Joe Biden in charge of driving major changes through Congress because he’d been a senator nine times longer than Obama, knew the players and rules better, and could wrangle change there.

Joe Biden was Obama’s go-to guy when he knew nothing was going to happen. Obama put him in charge of driving the administration’s open-government transparency initiative. Biden called an immediate meeting of senior officials to plan the strongest transparency policies ever. And closed it to the public.

Obama put Joe Biden in charge of implementing the economic stimulus bill to stifle the recession of 2009. That was back when $900 million seemed like a whole lot of money. Joe Biden promised hundreds of thousands of new jobs coming soon, next month possibly, mid-summer perhaps, certainly by fall.

They didn’t appear until someone else was president and cleared the bureaucratic brush.

Here’s the real problem, ladies and gentlemen. Face it. These killers are mentally ill. Insane. Sick. Out of their mind. Crazy. Cuckoo. Nuts. Whatever your word. But if they’re walking among us undiagnosed, out on minimal bond, or only identified after they kill, what’s the point?

Having a mental illness engenders a perverse, blinding sympathy that cloaks the danger of a twisted mind to others, especially to children. And we grasp for handy reasons. I know — guns!

I suspect many dodge mental illness as the cause because it’s an illness that can’t be blamed on political opponents.

Mentally ill have rights, to be sure. But others do too. We must be more honest and clear and determined about rooting out these lethal cancer cells before they trample all over other people’s constitutional pursuit of happiness by stealing their right to life.

Our society can change. Fifty-eight years ago, I was admonished for blindly walking into a “Colored” bathroom in Mississippi. Sixty-five years ago, most everyone tossed litter from their car. Now? $1,000 fine.

Talking about mental illness today is like talking about drunk driving 35 years ago. We all tried to be understanding then. Look the other way. Well, he’s got problems at home. No job. A good guy without the sauce. Families didn’t talk about it.

Until BOOM!

Someone who doesn’t know what day it is kills an innocent driver. That is homicide, flat-out. And it always turns out someone — or several someones — knew about the drinking.

It wasn’t until punishments and peer pressures got quite serious, bartenders were held accountable for pouring too many drinks, designated drivers became acceptable, indeed necessary.

Remember Nikolas Cruz, who opened up in 2018 in that high school in Parkland, Florida? He killed 17 that day.

Health officials knew he was dangerous. Police knew he was dangerous. Classmates joked he was a future shooter. The school knew his anti-social behavior so well, he was expelled.

Yet, there he was out and about because laws only allowed short-term incarceration for mental evaluation. Yes, you’re violent, but no crime yet. So, you’re free to go.

Not good enough anymore.

In 2017, Devin Kelley walked up and down a church aisle in Sutherland Springs, Texas shooting worshipers. He killed 26 of them, including an unborn baby, before being wounded by a local man, fleeing, and shooting a neat hole in his own head.

He had been court-martialed for domestic violence, stalking women, fracturing his infant son’s skull. But the military never got around to entering that in the national data bank, which would have prohibited his firearms purchase.

The point is people knew of his violent behavior. The alleged Buffalo shooter reportedly was hospitalized for a brief mental evaluation some months ago before meticulously planning his attack that killed 10.

The Secret Service has an institutional interest in violence. Its research found an overwhelming number of perpetrators, especially the younger ones, gave advance signals of their intentions. But no one blew a whistle. Three-quarters of shooters displayed unusual behavior or writings raising suspicions. But no one told anyone.

Two-thirds had previous signs of mental illness like paranoia and delusions. And fully a quarter had actually been hospitalized or treated with psychiatric drugs. Yet there they were walking among unknowing innocents.

The TSA looks through the clothing and even body crevices of some two million people every day, to detect weapons down to penknives. Women have breasts removed because of a family cancer history. Understandable precautions today.

But somehow we don’t bother to identify potential shooters in time. We don’t necessarily need new laws. Try enforcing existing ones better. And how about the nation wake up for a serious social, legal, and educational confrontation with the currently no-touchy issue of sick in the head?

Yes, yes, potential shooters have rights. However, so too do movie audiences, school kids, concertgoers, mall shoppers. and others innocently going about their lives with a right not to become a target, just because too many Americans feel the need to whisper “mentally ill.”

Because when the coroner’s crew zips up the body bags, it’s too late to talk for too many innocents in them.

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