Bellowing pretend words about beefing up security, NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre stuck to talking points about arming everybody to the teeth, basically, except the mentally ill, who should all be locked up until we improve our ability to return fire on them.
Basically, that was his argument. That’s his mental health fix. Round everyone up who hears voices.
“If we leave these homicidal maniacs on the street, they’re going to kill,” he fumed on NBC’s Meet the Press, doing the rounds on the Sunday talk shows for the first time since the mass shooting at the Washington Navy Yard a week before by former reservist Aaron Alexis.
“They need to be committed is what they need to be. If they are committed, they are not at the Naval Yard.”
“There weren’t enough good guys with guns,” he continued. “When the good guys with guns got there, it stopped.”
Trouble is, the 34 year-old computer technician was one of the good guys, until he met the worst of his voices and wasn’t.
Good guys start hearing voices out of nowhere all the time. Good guys by the millions across our immense country are disturbed by voices.
Good guys or bad guys, they can seem astoundingly normal-looking at first, even in the grip of psychosis. There’s a tiny difference that can mean everything. In this labyrinthine world, no background check can track or flag what gets you to that point.
Piecing it together, we do know that he had all the signs of classic late onset paranoid schizophrenia. That’s all we know.
The suddenness of the onset and the transformation of personality that attends it, a phenomenon familiar to the millions of Americans who’ve seen it first-hand in our families, is a chilling reminder that all young adults are susceptible.
In the end we don’t have millions of bad people that should be good people. We have millions of sick people–brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers, children–that should be given help to be well people.
Because Alexis was not a felon, and was never committed to a psychiatric facility, he was a cinch to pass his federal background check. After that there was no one to stop him from using the high-powered shotgun he bought with the greatest of ease. What he would do with it in the massacre two days later was between him and his murderous voices.
Which begs the question: just how do we screen for something as undetectable as auditory hallucination? Does Mr. LaPierre have a magical mind reading machine to detect the violent impulses of one’s voices at the gunshop counter?
Motivations will always be mystifying, yet it cannot be denied that only Alexis, in his restless search for help, cried out. Trouble is, no one listened.
That may be the one lesson for all of us in the hard-of-hearing shout fest that drowns out coherent dialogue: we need to listen. Not just to each other but, yes, to people like Alexis.
Only when we accept the authenticity of the very real human experience of what was classically known as audition–and stop pretending that people who hear voices have no insight into their own condition—will the bloodshed ebb.
This subtle point will no doubt be buried beneath blunt themes like gun rights and mass incarceration in the days ahead. In the meantime, no one should be won over by LaPierre arguments that are themselves the way to madness.
Hard studies show that just as more guns lead to more death, heavy weapons fire leads to increased insanity. It’s a bit of a no brainer but worth pointing out that the hard data is in and the stressful effects are most pronounced in the mental health of girls.
Researchers five years ago looking at some 90,000 births in Jerusalem between 1964 and 1976, and the effects of the June 1967 war between Israel and neighboring countries, spotted the big differences.
It found that girls in their second month in the womb anywhere in Jerusalem were four times more likely to develop schizophrenia than children born at other times. Those girls whose mothers lived in neighborhoods that took direct artillery hits during the Six Day War were 33 times as likely.
War, it must be concluded, breeds madness more so than other big drivers like the famine that was pronounced in my own ancestors’ experience. And, like in-vitro starvation, its legacy can be felt in the downstream generations too.
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Last reviewed: 24 Sep 2013