mental illness

Cartoon by Leigh Tauss

Within hours of the Sandy Hook shooting, I saw Facebook statuses and tweets that politicized these tragic deaths as a “call for gun reform.” I don’t quite know where I stand on the issue of gun reform, but I do know that a gun will never point itself at anyone and pull its own trigger. I don’t believe that guns are inherently to blame for any crime, especially the Sandy Hook shooting.

So I decided to take a closer look at the man who pulled the trigger at Sandy Hook: Adam Lanza.

Lanza was diagnosed with a sensory perception disorder and Asperger’s syndrome.  Asperger’s is a mild form of autism, a developmental disorder not characterized by violence. A developmental disorder is not a mental illness, as many autism awareness groups are quick to point out in the wake of this tragedy.

The fact that Lanza acted so violently highlights that he most likely had other issues aside from Asperger’s and sensory perception disorder that went undiagnosed and untreated for a long time.  Several articles report that Lanza was also severely bullied when he was a student at Sandy Hook Elementary School, which can be another potential factor in the shooting.

His mother, Nancy, was a gun enthusiast and had a large weapon collection. She noticed her son’s disturbing behaviors before the shooting, including violent drawings depicting gun violence, but she didn’t get help for him. After the shooting, law enforcement officials found that Lanza had been collecting articles about mass killings.

There is no crime in being a gun enthusiast. However, she had a huge responsibility to her son that she did not take seriously enough. I myself cannot comprehend why a mother would expose her mentally unstable son to extreme weaponry.

But it is not completely fair to blame Nancy Lanza.

The stigma surrounding mental illness in our country is only matched by the public’s ignorance and indifference to mentally ill Americans. The majority of mentally ill Americans are not properly treated or cared for, and many end up incarcerated, homeless or committing suicide.  Five to ten percent of death row inmates suffer from a serious mental illness and an estimated 283,00

I understand the impulse to blame the gun, but we don’t blame forks for the obesity epidemic. We look at the people who are obese and try to help create a more effective lifestyle and environment for them. Why aren’t we looking at the sad truths of mental illness and trying to help those who suffer from it?

The Sandy Hook tragedy was preventable, but not by stopping Lanza from acquiring a gun. He was researching mass killings, including killings involving homemade bombs. He truly intended to do this, and he would have found a way with or without his mother’s guns – possibly a way far more deadly.

I don’t blame Nancy Lanza and I don’t blame her guns.  I blame the lack of competent and complete medical and psychiatric care in this country that perpetuates mentally ill Americans’ statuses as burdens and dangers.

Let’s become advocates for a social reform that helps instead of hides. Let’s act for people, not against objects.

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