Ending these mass killings is not as simple as gun control, or fighting radical Islam. Richard Wagner tried to get to the root of the problem.
My last article on Orlando shooting received a lot of vitriol on social media from gun control advocates. I was critical of several different kinds of political opportunism I saw following the Orlando shooting. Some of the comments were fair, such as “How long do we have to wait? How many more have to die?” Others were very personal, “You disgrace the victims with silence…”
I’m not saying we shouldn’t talk about these things. I’m just disgusted at how some people, the second they hear of something like this, rather than showing any concern for the people and their loved ones, can’t wait to start with “See, we need gun control!” “See, Trump is right! We can’t keep letting those darned Muslims in!” “No, what we need is MORE guns!” “It’s those homophobes, and Christians have been pushing anti-gay legislation and now they want to blame Muslims?”
I’m sure that many feel strongly that gun control is the magic bullet solution to the pattern of mass killings we see in the US. They’re as certain and stubborn in that assertion as I am in my assertion that if we’d slap some tariffs on China, our manufacturing sector would thrive again. I suppose we’re both guilty of assuming that a complex problem needs only a simple solution.
My colleague Scott Benowitz is also publishing a piece on the Orlando shooting, and I’d encourage you to read it. I agree with most of his points, but would like to focus more deeply on the psychological aspect, because I am certain that this is at the root of the problems we face in America with these killers.
Orlando Shooting: What about Radical Islam?
First, I want to take a brief detour to discuss radical Islam. Benowitz’s proposal neglected this subject, as did Obama’s initial speech following the Orlando Shooting. While many of these shootings have nothing to do with Islam, it’s clear that some do, including the Orlando Shooting. The killer did swear allegiance to ISIS, and this cannot be ignored.
Trump and many others are asserting that this is at the root of the problem, and on that I disagree. Radical Muslims were radical before they were “Muslims”. I can understand why Obama, with a certain affinity for the faith of his father, doesn’t like to identify them as Muslims. He, and many devout Muslims, feel it is a corruption of the true Islamic faith. I accept the legitimacy of their assertion. I’m not a Muslim myself, so I don’t think it’s my place to say what really is “true Islam”.
But clearly there is a crisis in Islam today. Clearly there is a sect of self-identified Muslims who hate the US, hate western culture, seek to subjugate women, murder homosexuals and all who don’t agree with them (often Muslims by the way).
Unlike those that came before, ISIS can hit at any time no matter how much we secure our border. Unlike Al Qaeda, with its rigorous training camps and carefully calculated attacks, ISIS encourages people they’ve never met to plant a bomb, and take up arms, and kill lots of innocent people at any time in the name of Allah.
Bush once said “we have to fight ’em over there so we don’t have to fight ’em over here”. Unless we shut down the internet, we are going to have to fight ’em over here as long as ISIS exists. That’s why it is important for President Obama to devise a strategy to truly defeat ISIS. They cannot be contained. They will get in the heads of any psychologically vulnerable American, and do immense harm without ever having to pass through the TSA.
And this brings me to the root of the problem.
What do all these killers have in common? Many are Islamic, but not all. Many use guns, but not all. Many are homophobic, many are racist, many are sexist, but not all. But they all have serious untreated or poorly treated psychological problems.
When I think back to Elliot Rodgers, AKA “The Virgin Killer”, he was socially isolated. His parents were doing everything they could, as was his psychologist. But the psychologist couldn’t give him the treatment he really needed – social cohesion. Rodgers couldn’t find the friends, or the love, that he desired from his peers. First he felt ignored, and over time, he felt that it was being done to him. In the end, he didn’t want to be irrelevant, so he decided to make himself relevant. He was armed, but also had a knife. Of the six people he killed, four were killed with a knife.
In America, we do not provide the kind of psychological help that is needed. Having a schizophrenic mother and a father with PTSD, I’ve seen both the harm that comes from untreated mental illness, and how much of a difference treatment can make. I’ve also seen how willing our politicians are to put funding for mental health on the chopping block when they’re trying to score political points. The mentally ill are a small minority, and often aren’t allowed to vote. Even if they all could vote, there wouldn’t be enough of them to form a strong voting block.
Treating mental illness and social isolation
This is why the rest of us need to realize that treating the mentally ill is good for everyone. As long as people are left to suffer from the voices in their heads and the increasingly paranoid thoughts that torment their existence, there will always be ticking time bombs out there ready to snap. Most of the mentally ill would never hurt anyone.
My mother has had several “breakdowns” over the years. She’s been known to run up thousands of dollars in debt. She’s been known to throw away most of her clothes. But she’s never hurt anyone. I’m glad my mother can get the help she needs because most of the time, she just as “normal” as anyone else. But there are a few who are prone to violence. If you manage to deprive them of guns, they’ll find another way. They can make pipe bombs. They can hijack a bus and go on a driving rampage. They can try arson.
We Americans love our freedom and individuality. It’s a wonderful thing. But we often forget that humans are social creatures. Too quick are we to discard people who seem a little odd. Too quick are we to shun those who are a little different, or unique. And we feel perfectly justified in so doing. Nobody owes you nothin’! Right? But sometimes, that odd but seemingly harmless person really needs a friend. The combination of mental illness and social isolation create a toxic brew. That person really needs to matter to someone. If he doesn’t…he’ll make himself relevant, somehow.