Not since Nazi Germany has anyone suggested just rounding up the mentally ill—and no one makes a peep.
The futility of this approach is based on simple math: You are ten times as likely to be attacked by a drunk, but we don’t hear the NRA talking about caging everybody with a drinking problem, do we?
People presenting with schizophrenia, who account for one percent of the population, account for one percent of the gun deaths. Statistically, and notwithstanding the unspeakable tragedy, it’s a wash.
We’re talking about 10,000 gun murders each year in America, roughly 100 committed each year by the severely mentally ill. That’s one percent, which is what they number in the general population.
The 34 year-old computer technician, who’d complained of hearing voices before he went beserk, was one of the one in a hundred. The story of where his homicidal voices took him strengthens the impulse of compassionate Americans to help, while for others, blinded by the NRA, the impulse to rid the nation of a misperceived scourge of psychosis is what matters.
The only rare ray of light in this otherwise grim episode is a growing awareness of how real the voices are to those who are tormented by them day and night. The more we understand about the voices that drove Alexis around the bend, the less we stigmatize this vague condition of schizophrenia that nobody, least of all psychiatry, even pretends to understand.
As this tragedy fades to the back pages, we’ll settle back into our lives until the next senseless massacre, lulled into a fall sense of security by the myth, underscored by the “lone gunman” portrait, that psychosis is scarce. It’s a myth that never loses its popularity, even though the world is swarming with mental illness.
If madness remains this massive archetype that eludes easy answers even for the biggest thinkers, then I guess even LaPierre can be forgiven for failing to comprehend what’s happening here:
In all the decades that they have complained about their voices, people with schizophrenia have never been given their due, even by mainstream psychiatry, which has shown an utter poverty of imagination when it comes to treatment.
The prevalence of schizophrenia may be the biggest wildcard in a world of high capacity weapons. The paranoid schizophrenic may even be the NRA’s Achille’s heel, because what’s imponderable is the unpredictable nature of his act of violence.
Keep in mind that there are not more people hearing voices today than ever. That number has remained steady.
What’s more, the genetic markers for schizophrenia go all the way back to our pre-human ancestors.
Even evolutionary biologists are at a loss to explain why madness has fought its way through five million years to survive in one in a hundred people. That would seem to go against everything that’s helpful for survival, but it has somehow.
Many believe the condition may be a neurological legacy of an earlier time, before our brains doubled in size and split in half. In that case, it’s not going anywhere too soon, so society should think of ways of accomodating the severely mentally ill.
Remember, the population of American suffering from schizophrenia is equal to the population of the city of Miami. That’s no small gathering.
And now Mr. LaPierre wants to lock ‘em all up so they don’t cast a shadow on his industry’s bottom line?
How about locking up the heavy weaponry instead?
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Last reviewed: 27 Sep 2013