Yes, Breitbart, 33,000 People ARE Killed with Guns Each Year

by

J.C. Schildbach, LMHC

There is absolutely nothing controversial about Hillary Clinton’s claim that, in the United States, “We have 33,000 people a year who die from guns”–except maybe to those who don’t understand how words and numbers work.

Yet, AWR Hawkins, breitbart.com’s “Second Amendment Columnist,” posted a “Fact-Check” column, titled “No, 33,000 Not Killed with Guns Each Year” following the third presidential debate, claiming that Clinton deliberately inflated the CDC numbers of firearm deaths by adding in suicides. This is not the first time Hawkins has posted similar complaints.

What Hawkins fails to do is explain how suicides by firearm somehow fall outside of the “33,000 people a year who die from guns.” Certainly, Hawkins must understand that somebody who uses a gun to kill him/herself is dead, and did use a gun in order to die—making that person someone who ‘died from a gun.’

Using Hawkins’ preferred language of people “killed with guns each year” still doesn’t change anything. A person who commits suicide with a firearm still was, in fact, killed with a gun.

suicide-gun-mouth

Hawkins also strikes out by putting the phrase “gun violence” in quotation marks, saying that the use of that phrase (which Clinton did not use in the quote he complains about) somehow plays into Clinton’s strategy of fooling the public. But, again, killing oneself with a firearm does qualify as “gun violence”–first of all, because it involves an act of violence; and secondly, because it involves a gun. Or you can reverse that so the gun is first and the violence is second—still doesn’t change anything.

I don’t want to get into speculation about things that Clinton didn’t say, but perhaps if she had used the phrase “gun crimes” or had referred to murders using guns, then Hawkins would have a better argument. But Clinton didn’t. So Hawkins doesn’t.

And, in case you’re wondering, the 33,000 figure is dead-on. Here’s a chart, showing the CDC numbers of gun deaths for the years 2010 to 2014 (2014 being the most recent year statistics are available) clearly showing that gun deaths have reached well above 33,000 per year for 2012, 2013, and 2014, and averaged 32,964 per year for the five-year period.

avg-gun-deaths-2010-to-2014

A handy chart of CDC statistics on gun deaths, lifted from Everytown for Gun Safety at  https://everytownresearch.org/gun-violence-by-the-numbers/

Now, I get that gun-loving Americans, including the Breitbart crowd, don’t like to believe anything negative about guns. They also don’t like to believe that they may, at some point, end up so distraught, or so deep in the throes of mental illness, that they might use their guns on themselves, and/or their family members or other loved ones—or perhaps even neighbors or random strangers.

By pushing the suicide statistics aside, or pretending they ‘don’t count’, Hawkins ignores a harsh reality here: that people who own guns tend to kill themselves with those guns far more than they kill an intruder in their home, or otherwise defend themselves from the big, bad, scary world out there. People who own guns kill themselves with those guns more often than criminals use guns to kill innocent citizens; and more frequently than ‘gang violence’ leads to gun deaths.

There is also considerable overlap in the “murder/suicide” category—where gun owners kill their significant others, family members, co-workers, or random strangers, prior to turning their guns on themselves. And because guns are such a quick and effective killing tool, the decision to use them in an act of violence on loved ones or oneself is often impulsive—a few too many bad days in a row, a bad argument following a few too many beers, or even a partner deciding they want out of a relationship, and the gun comes out as the ultimate way to put a stop to whatever is so aggravating.

As for mental illness, Hawkins’ argument becomes even less convincing in the face of all the clamoring about how we don’t have a gun problem in the U.S., but we have a mental health problem. Of course, people who make such an argument are usually talking about the mental health issues of mass shooters. Yet, if we (properly) view suicide as a mental health issue, then the numbers of firearm suicides become that much more disturbing. Gun owners kill themselves at a rate roughly twice as high as the rate of gun murders. That’s a vast mental health issue that’s not being addressed, and that is being exacerbated by guns.

Yes, I know that many of the people who want to argue in favor of guns like to point out that people who commit suicide will find the means to do so, even if you take their guns away–an argument which is demonstrably false in terms of overall lethality. There are many ways to map out the evidence showing this falsehood, including the high rate of suicide by firearm–roughly 50% of all suicides in the U.S. are completed using guns. Another way to conceptualize the difference in suicide methods is to compare suicide completion rates using firearms relative to suicide completion rates using other methods. For instance, plenty more people survive suicide attempts by overdosing on pills than survive suicide attempts using guns.

Those who are willing to brush off the connection between firearms and suicide also sometimes argue that suicide is a matter of personal freedom—of being allowed to end one’s life when one chooses. I will say that I’m not completely opposed to people being able to end their own lives on terms they choose. However, I’ve learned enough to know that people are least equipped to make that decision quickly, impulsively, or while in a deep depression (among many other factors). Very few people attempt suicide while they are thinking in the clearest of terms, or making a rational decision based on a comprehensive review of the facts.

Depression and many other forms of mental illness are notorious for their association with cognitive distortions, aka, “thinking errors”—misinterpreting the world around one, the impact one’s actions have on others, and the view other people have of one (again, among many other factors). As I’ve pointed out before, the idea that a gun keeps one safe is, itself, a cognitive distortion. The suicide-by-firearm statistics make that clear.

There is also, perhaps, a great irony here, in that Hawkins believes he is advocating for gun ownership, when the “mental health” approach to suicide prevention involves removing the means for suicide. That is, safety planning for suicide prevention involves taking away those means most likely to be used in a suicide attempt, while the person at risk for suicide gets treatment.

So, how do we address the mental health problems associated with guns and suicide? Take the guns away, at least until the person moves beyond risk for suicide. Of course, mental health treatment is not predictive. Risk factors can be weighed, and support systems assessed, but given the ease with which a person can use a gun to end her/his own life, a dip back into depression, a few more bad days, a drift away from regular engagement with one’s (positive) coping skills, and the risk can escalate once again.

Hawkins thinks he is supporting gun rights by poo-pooing the statistics on firearm deaths in the United States. But what he is actually doing is pointing out that suicide is twice as big a problem, where guns are concerned, as murder is. His solution is to pretend the people who commit suicide with guns aren’t really people who “die from guns.”

At base, he is arguing that people who commit suicide with guns aren’t really people…or perhaps aren’t really people who deserve the support to go on living.

 

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Sons of Guns & Daughters of Rapists

by Jonathan C. Schildbach, MA, LMHC, ASOTP

The last several weeks have seen charges of molestation, “aggravated crimes against nature,” and rape of a child, among others, brought against Will Hayden of Red Jacket Firearms and the Discovery Channel’s “Sons of Guns” reality show. Hayden has protested that the alleged victim, his own 12-year-old daughter, made the accusations only after his angry ex-girlfriend put the child up to it. The police and many news sources are now walking back their identification of the victim as Hayden’s daughter under laws that protect the identity of minors…but since it’s already splashed all over the Internet, I’m not sure what good that’s supposed to do.

I’ll put forth the disclaimer that anyone accused of a crime in the U.S. is innocent until proven guilty. I’ll also say I’m all for keeping things like this out of the media—but that’s clearly not the world we’re living in, particularly when such charges involve a public figure. After all, Hayden’s show was abruptly cancelled, and his business partners openly distanced themselves from him as a form of damage control to keep their custom gun business afloat. In addition, in the time since the accusations from Hayden’s minor daughter first surfaced, multiple other alleged victims have come forward, including Hayden’s adult daughter Stephanie, who initially defended him against the charges, but is now reportedly slated to appear on the “Dr. Phil” show later this week to explain that she was molested and raped by Hayden when she was a child.

And to add to the various disclaimers and caveats, I must also say I don’t know enough about Hayden’s past, or his current behaviors, to suggest that I, in any way, know that he fits, or doesn’t fit, the general clinical conditions suggesting high-risk behaviors for pedophilia or sexual abuse of a minor.

Let me also put forward that as much as there is an assumption of innocence for the accused, if we really want to make any headway on addressing sexual abuse of children, the assumption needs to be that children who come forward to seek help for sexual abuse are not making things up. When children are lying, their stories do not hold up particularly well, although depending on how skilled or unskilled, careful or careless, someone is when interviewing children, plenty can go wrong with the information that is gathered. But if our first reaction to children who report sexual abuse is to shut them down, or leave them in the homes of the accused, they are potentially being put at further danger, and a likely increase in the level of that danger.

And speaking of making headway in addressing issues of sexual abuse, I’ve noticed, at least as indicated by Internet comments, that when it comes to stories like this, we can count on public opinion to fall into a small number of categories:

1) Kill ’em all: This just involves amped-up vitriol aimed at sex offenders, and those accused of having committed sex offenses. I understand the anger. But, seriously, if you think that killing more people, or addressing problems of abuse with violence is the way to move toward a better society, a more healthy understanding of human sexuality, or better protection for children, you’re taking an overly simplistic view of the way the world works. And if you think this approach has some merit, why weren’t you able to spot Hayden and bring him to justice earlier? Is that anger and all those demands for vengeance really accomplishing anything?

2) “He’s obviously a rapist because he does/likes/thinks X.” Whenever somebody is in trouble for being an (alleged or convicted) sex offender, people like to equate the offender’s other behaviors and beliefs (that don’t jibe with their own) with the offense behavior. In the case of Hayden, some have connected “gun culture” to sexual abuse of children. And while, as anybody who has read my other posts knows, I am no fan of guns, I just can’t see anything productive coming from conflating gun ownership or gun manufacture with child molestation. Of all the people I know, holding varying levels of support for gun ownership or gun control, none of them have ever expressed an endorsement of sexually abusing children. This lack of support for sexually abusing children is pretty universal, regardless of one’s political beliefs, religious beliefs or hobbies.

Furthermore, while I have worked with a few offenders who have had guns figure prominently or incidentally in their abuse behaviors, they have been the exception, not the rule. In terms of grooming behaviors, things like money, jewelry, candy, drugs/alcohol, video games, clothing, toys, and porn have been involved in many more of the offenses I’m aware of than have guns.  And I’m not going to advocate for the banning of any of those items based on the ability of abusers to involve them in abuse patterns. I’m more than happy to advocate for a ban on guns based on their use in—well, shootings—homicide and suicide and attempts at both, not to mention all manner of other crimes and accidental deaths, but as for their involvement in child molestation–not a huge concern, at least from what I’ve personally seen.

3) “How can somebody do this?” This is usually sideways of the “Kill ’em all” concept, and often involves plenty of name-calling. I get that it is very difficult to understand how somebody could rape their own daughter—or sexually abuse any child—but many of the factors involved are not beyond explanation. Most people just don’t want to hear the explanations…or deal with them…except in punitive, harsh ways once somebody has committed such acts.

Generally speaking, though, a person doesn’t sexually abuse a child because he or she is thinking clearly, or because he or she has just suddenly come up with such an idea after a long life of healthy relationships. If Hayden was engaging in sexual abuse of children, he wasn’t, one assumes, doing it out in the open, as such behaviors usually involve a great deal of secrecy and manipulation, like Hayden’s alleged warnings and threats to his daughter not to tell anyone, because, “I’m all you’ve got.”  In short, people who sexually abuse children are ill and engage in a number of behaviors to try and mask that illness, or keep others from learning of it.  I’m not sure how to properly emphasize this enough.  Sexual abusers of children are not just random guys who are bored and horny.  There are a lot of factors involved, including a huge number of elements (rationalizations, justifications, creating situations where one has access to children and is willing to take advantage of that access while plotting to keep anyone from finding out) that involve breaking down the normal barriers that prevent such sexual abuse.  In other words, “How does somebody do this?” is a question that involves a long and extended answer.

…And now for a clip of Hayden that seems weirdly re-contextualized, check this out–especially the last 20 seconds or so…y’know, where he talks about people becoming bad headlines and how he tends to his own conscience.

Anyway, let’s say that way back before Hayden had ever (assuming he did) touched his daughter or any other young girls in a sexually inappropriate manner, he realized he was having thoughts in that direction, and that he needed to do something to steer clear of that behavior. What would he do?

For those of you who know what kinds of resources are out there for dealing with someone who is having thoughts of sexually abusing a child, bravo. Please do what you can to make sure others know. I will say that over my years working on the crisis line, I have fielded a very small number of calls from people (both men and women) who were concerned about the nature of some of their sexual thoughts towards minors—either specific minors in specific situations, or more generalized sexual thoughts—and were seeking help.  In my years of dealing with offenders, I have seen numerous people who just might have sought help if they had any idea how to, and if they hadn’t felt like total garbage for acknowledging that they needed help.

But most people facing thoughts of sexual attraction to children do not have the wherewithal to seek help, much less have any idea where such help could be sought. It is a much more common reaction to deny that there is a problem, to try to push the thoughts away, or even to feed the thoughts (as in masturbating to inappropriate fantasies) while assuming that the actual offense behaviors can still be avoided.

Furthermore, treatment providers in the field of sexual abuse can have a difficult time promoting services. People tend to come to providers by referral from a lawyer or a community corrections officer (CCO) after they are already in trouble or have already served time, even though the same types of treatment could be just as effective before any offenses were committed. After all, just how welcome do you think a provider would be if they hung a sign out on their business that said “Sex Offender Treatment” or “Specializing in the Treatment of Sexual Deviancy,” or something similar? The stigma and shame that prevents people from seeking help for mental health issues as relatively common and accepted (and I mean relatively accepted) as depression, is increased a great deal for issues surrounding sexually inappropriate thoughts and behavior.

So, regardless of all that business about stigma and secrecy and providers protecting the privacy of their clients and confidentiality of their services…here’s a site that has a directory of providers throughout the U.S.  It’s basically set up for people who are already in trouble.  But it doesn’t have to be.  This is through “Stop It Now” which has referrals to the Association for the Treatment of Sexual Abusers (ATSA) and numerous other organizations.  Get help if you need it.  Get help for others if they need it.  That’s right, help, and try to discontinue the hurt.

http://www.stopitnow.org/faqs_treatment

Maybe if everybody calmed the f*ck down and decided they were more interested in actually protecting children than in getting angry at offenders, we might make some progress.  And maybe tend to that part of your conscience that’s problematic before you become a bad headline, or before you celebrate a bad headline.

Peace.

THE Mental Health System Fix to Curb Gun Violence

The National Rifle Association (NRA), having confused “the mental health system” with the Pre-cog arm of the FBI’s Future Crimes Division, has endorsed the idea that mass shootings, as well as shootings of the non-mass-variety, are the responsibility of said mental health system. It is with the NRA’s assigning of responsibility for gun-related violence, and the attendant assignation of authority to resolve the problem, that I present the following mental health assessment tool: the Gun Violence Prediction and Prevention Mental Health Assessment Protocol, version 1 (GVPPMHAP-I)

The following assessment tool is to be administered any time a person wishes to purchase a firearm of any kind, regardless of how many firearms those people may already own. In addition, all current firearm owners are required to submit to the assessment by, oh, say next week. Scoring and outcomes of scores are presented at the end of the assessment.

Overcompensation?  What overcompensation?

Overcompensation? What overcompensation?

THE GUN VIOLENCE PREDICTION AND PREVENTION MENTAL HEALTH ASSESSMENT PROTOCOL, VERSION 1 (GVPPMHAP-I)

Instructions: Complete each of the following statements with the response that most closely resembles your own thoughts.

1. When you hear the phrase “assault weapon,” you think of…
a) a culturally accepted and understood term for certain kinds of weapons.
b) how you are so angry at peoples’ ignorance of gun specifics that you want to shoot somebody.
c) a pepper spray, a cumin pistol, a thyme bomb, a rosemary clooney, a mickey rooney.

2. Entering a fast food restaurant carrying an assault rifle…
a) causes other people to instantly perceive you as a threat, as it is a very irrational thing to do.
b) is my God-given right—you got a problem with that?
c) is a good idea given that a dimensional rift could open up at any time, leading to enormous, human-eating insects storming into our plane of existence, and it would really suck if you didn’t have your assault rifle with you when that happened.

3. The greatest American president of the 20th century is…
a) FDR, because the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.
b) Ronald Reagan, who in one fell swoop proved he could take a bullet, and that mentally ill people are the real problem…not guns
c) Thomas Whitmore because he gave those aliens what-for.

4. Despite all evidence showing that women are much more likely to be the victims of gun violence when they have guns in their homes or on their persons than when they don’t…
a) women should be allowed to buy guns under the law just like men, much the same way women should be treated equally under the law in all ways.
b) the real problem is that women just don’t have ENOUGH guns.
c) women are the last, best hope for defeating the impending robot insurrection, so need to keep guns at all times, whatever the cost.

5. Guns don’t…
a) have any purpose being brandished at peaceful political rallies other than to intimidate people who disagree with those showing off their guns in public.
b) kill people; people with mental illness kill people!
c) get to tell me what to do. I tell them what to do.

6. Of the roughly 19,000 suicides in the United States each year, half of them are completed with firearms, suggesting that…
a) guns allow for impulsive, violent suicide attempts that are far more likely to be lethal than any other method.
b) See, I told you the problem is with the mental health system.
c) if I’m really serious about killing myself, I should probably get a gun.

7. We don’t need new gun laws, we just need…
a) to reinstate the old ones that were made unenforceable through the lobbying efforts of the NRA.
b) to get rid of all gun laws.
c) more mystery-flavor Doritos so that we may learn to thrive on the toxins in our environment and become one with cancer.

8. School shootings could best be stopped…
a) with a combination of measures, including reasonable gun control policies; working to get school staff, parents, and students engaged in the school community; and educating parents about the potential dangers of keeping weapons in the home when children/teens might access those weapons.
b) by displaying the Ten Commandments in the classroom.
c) by attractive teens who are able to resolve society’s ills through the power of dance.

9. Smart gun technology…
a) is a reasonable way to limit who can and can’t use a particular weapon.
b) is just another tool of the fascist government to prevent me from shooting any gun I can get my hands on.
c) is a bad step in the direction of weapons gaining full consciousness and realizing the threat posed by their human masters.

10. Each year in the U.S. there are roughly as many deaths by automobile as there are by guns, leading to the conclusion that…
a) guns should be regulated at least as heavily as automobiles and subject to similar controls, such as training in appropriate usage and safety prior to licensing, gun registration, and requirements for gun owners to purchase insurance to pay for any damages resulting from the use of said weapons.
b) automobiles are just as deadly as guns (false equivalencies and misunderstandings of statistics be damned).
c) Pixar should make a “Guns” movie, similar to their “Cars” movie, which tells the tale of waning small-town America through the eyes of a cocky AR-15, Blasty McRatatat, who becomes stranded in a sleepy, little community on the way to a gun show. Through their obvious goodheartedness, the quirky, adorable townsweapons teach the AR-15 to slow down and appreciate life one short burst at a time.

11. Banding together with other assault-rifle owners in order to intimidate government employees who are attempting to enforce a penalty against a racist rancher who has been stealing from the commons for decades…
a) makes you one of those outlaws with a gun, who needs to be stopped by law-abiding citizens with guns.
b) makes you a patriot who believes in the true values of America.
c) Cows are pretty cool. I could hang out with cows all day. It’s only good manners to always say, “Hi, cow!” every time you see a cow, although most of them would prefer if you called them by their proper names. I once knew a cow named Sister Maria Theresa Fortenzia. Isn’t that a funny name for a cow?

12. People who live in fear that the government is coming to take all their guns away…
a) are paranoid and creepy and should probably have their guns taken away.
b) are the only real Americans who are truly awake to the reality of the one-world-government dystopian hell soon to be visited on us all.
c) should know that the loss of their guns is the last thing they should be worrying about in the face of the one-world-government dystopian hell soon to be visited on us all.

13. The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is…
a) another bad guy with a gun, a cop, a good guy with pepper spray, a good guy who knows how to tackle a bad guy with a gun, reasonable gun control measures making it much more difficult for bad guys to get guns, enabling law enforcement to track suspicious purchases of guns and ammo, a good guy with a crossbow, a good guy with a knife, a good guy with an apple…sorry, that was several things that potentially have the power to stop a bad guy with a gun…but, y’know, if people are gonna kill somebody or stop somebody, they’re going to find a way to do it, and guns aren’t really necessary, right?
b) Wayne LaPierre’s fiery delivery of nonsensical rhetoric.
c) a well-aimed garbage truck.

14. This assessment involves a fourteenth question because…
a) paranoid conspiracy theorists would probably view an assessment with thirteen questions as being somehow satanic or otherwise involving the occult.
b) because it was probably crafted by liberal pussies who want to make sure it doesn’t reference anything patriotic or pro-America like the original thirteen colonies.
c) test subjects engaging in speculation about the number of questions on an assessment is a sure-fire way to identify people who have an unnatural obsession with the arbitrary connections they make, which seem irrational to anyone not sharing in their delusions.

Scoring is as Follows:
For every “a” answer, score one point.
For every “b” answer, score two points.
For every “c” answer…what the hell, two points seems reasonable.

Once the score is added up, engage the following procedures:

For anyone scoring a 14 or above:
• Prior to any gun purchase, a license for gun ownership must be obtained, which will include training in, and demonstrated proficiency in, use of the weapon, safe storage of the weapon, and proper maintenance of the weapon.
• Prior to licensing, the person desiring to purchase a firearm must pass a comprehensive background check.
• Prior to licensing, the person desiring to purchase a firearm must undergo a three-month waiting period.
• Prior to licensing, the person desiring to purchase a firearm must pass a rudimentary course in statistics/risk assessment so that they understand that they are much more likely to experience the death of a family member by gunshot wound due to having a gun in the home, than by not having a gun in the home, and that cars really are not more dangerous than guns unless a lot more people deliberately start using cars to kill people.
• Purchases of assault weapons, assault rifles, automatic weapons, and semi-automatic weapons will be disallowed.
• Any guns owned must be registered in a national database accessible by local government/police agencies for the basic purpose of making sure any law enforcement officers responding to a situation at a particular residence will have some idea of the level of danger they are facing there.
• At time of acquisition of any gun, owners must purchase firearm insurance at whatever going rates insurance companies deem reasonable for covering expenses related to use of firearms, including, but not limited to, costs for destruction of property, medical care, mental health care, and loss of life stemming from use of firearms.

In an ongoing effort to ensure the public safety, the “mental health system” reserves the right to impose further restrictions/sanctions on the ownership of guns.  Currently under consideration: a proposal by one Dr. Rock to increase the cost of bullets to $5,000 apiece.

The “mental health system” would like to thank the NRA and the American people for their trust and support in the design and implementation of the GVPPMHAP-I and its attendant requirements.

GUN CONTROL OR PEOPLE CONTROL? Part Two: Psych Beds and Psych Meds–Faster Than a Speeding Bullet?

As we pass the 13.5-month anniversary of the Newtown school shooting, and approach the 15-year anniversary of the Columbine school shooting (or, hell, pick a school shooting and do the chrono-math) we find ourselves struggling with the idea of stigmatizing people with mental illness in order to support easy access to guns and ammo—okay, not so much struggling as having to have a really stupid argument with people who love guns and people who know better than to engage in such a dangerous form of Objektophilie at the expense of fellow citizens, and while demeaning a particular group of citizens.

In an opinion piece that was posted on the Fox News web site just before the one-year anniversary of the Newtown school shooting, “Medical A-Team Member” Dr. Keith Ablow once again lends his severely-compromised credibility to the issue of gun control versus mental-health-system-blaming in order to craft an argument where fewer people would die if only there was increased access to psych beds and other psych services, and just as much, if not more, access to guns.

You can read the piece (all puns intended) here… http://www.foxnews.com/opinion/2013/12/12/on-newtown-anniversary-america-mental-health-system-still-mess/

Dr. Ablow fires out a random assortment of gun- and mental-health-related ideas with the precision and deadly accuracy of a single blast of #9 shot, aimed to take down the elephant in the room—that no meaningful action has been taken to reduce access to unnecessarily powerful weapons and massive amounts of ammunition.  Of course, as with trying to take down an elephant with a single blast of #9 shot, all that Ablow does is irritate the elephant—or exacerbate the problem—by claiming that it is mental illness that is the real problem.

Ablow starts off by listing five mass shooters from recent years, and remarks that we “now know” that they were all severely mentally ill.  Ablow then abruptly shifts to talk about Virginia State Senator Creigh Deeds, whose adult son, Austin (aka Gus), slashed/stabbed the Senator (with a knife) and then committed suicide (with a gun) in November.  (Note: this crime did not involve mass killing).

Prior to the stabbing and suicide, Austin was under an emergency custody order for a psychiatric evaluation, which expired before a psychiatric bed was secured for him.  Multiple hospital officials in Virginia later stated that they had open psychiatric beds at the time Austin was turned away.  It’s unclear exactly how things fell apart in this case, but it wouldn’t be impossible for a six-hour hold to expire while an overwhelmed staff at one facility needed to present the case for, and secure a bed for, hospitalization at another facility.  It is also possible that Austin did not meet grounds for (mental health) detention.

Dr. Ablow states that Austin was “discharged from an emergency room where he complained of severe psychiatric symptoms.”  But there are a number of problems with this statement.  For one, it comes in the context of one of Dr. Ablow’s “We know” statements—and “we” do NOT “know” what Austin may or may not have said or “complained” about.  Also, given that Austin was under an emergency custody order, chances are that he wasn’t voluntarily seeking help.  If Austin was willingly seeking help, and considered competent to do so, then the order wouldn’t have been necessary.

Unfortunately, if a client is not a clear threat to self or others, or in danger of harm due to being incapable of caring for him/herself, the client (generally speaking) cannot be detained.  Senator Deeds stated, after the incident, that while he expected conflict with his son, he did not expect his son to turn violent.  And in Virginia (mental health evaluation and detention procedures differ from state to state) a person cannot be detained if the emergency custody order expires before a psychiatric “bed” is found.  By contrast, in a number of other states, if a person is viewed as detainable for mental health reasons, they can be held (for example, in an emergency room) until a psychiatric bed becomes available or the client is stabilized.

At any rate, Dr. Ablow devotes a one-sentence paragraph to greatly simplifying what happened in the Deeds case, and ensuring that nobody who reads his column would understand anything about how laws related to mental health treatment operate, or what is required of patients and evaluators in detaining a person for mental health reasons.

As a bit of an aside, I routinely speak with people who think that all it takes for the state to send out an ambulance with a couple of guys and a straitjacket to cart away a loved one is three people who will pinky-swear that a relative or close friend needs to be “locked up.”  This is the kind of information that comes from old movies involving a group of people conspiring to get a relative “committed,” so they can usurp the family fortune.  As another bit of an aside, think of how much you agree with the idea that it should be legal for the state to lock a person up based on a consensus among three people that the person is “crazy.”

But Ablow’s interest is not in creating greater understanding, or making any kind of appeal to anybody based on, say, critical thinking skills.  It’s in telling us how guns are not a problem when it comes to people being shot.

Strangely enough, to make his pro-gun argument, Ablow then discusses Adam Lanza, the Newtown, Connecticut mass-shooter, in deeper detail.  Lanza, Ablow explains, was “allowed” to “learn how to shoot a firearm” by his mother, Nancy, who was the first victim of Adam’s shooting spree.  Dr. Ablow apparently hopes that readers don’t remember/can’t do an Internet search to find out that Lanza’s mother had numerous guns and a great deal of ammunition in her home (where Adam also lived), all purchased legally, and, shortly before the killings, had even written a check to Adam so he could go buy his own gun.

Also, as with the Deeds case, Lanza’s mother indicated that she did not fear violence from Adam, despite his statements and behavior to the contrary, and despite the large number of weapons she kept in her home.  Nancy Lanza’s sense of safety in opposition to all signs to the contrary is not unusual.  Most gun-rights advocates seem to suffer from some sort of collective delusion that they cannot be harmed with their own guns, although statistically speaking, gun owners and their family members are much more likely to be shot with those guns (accidentally, self-inflicted, or otherwise) than any bad-guys.

While ignoring Nancy Lanza’s love of guns, Dr. Ablow notes Adam’s obsession with mass murder, his playing of “violent video games (including one about school shootings)” and that Adam lived in the basement of his mother’s home, where he had covered the windows with trash bags and only communicated with his mother via e-mail during the three months before the shootings took place.  Dr. Ablow mentions Lanza’s Asperger’s Disorder diagnosis, and posits that he “may well have merited other diagnoses.”

Well, given that most people with Asperger’s Disorder don’t take up arms against grade-school children, I’d guess Dr. Ablow might be right about that diagnosis piece.  Lanza had also been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, and with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (neither of which tend to lead to mass killing), and had been prescribed medications related to his various diagnoses, but there was little follow-up by Lanza or his mother with regard to the psychiatric care.

This leads to another point regarding how pointless it is to claim that the “mental health system” is to blame for the problem of gun violence.  If the family members of someone like Adam Lanza did little or nothing to get him help, and actively encouraged his access to guns, it seems rather ridiculous to think a psychiatrist would be able to correct that situation with a few days in the hospital and some medications.

Strangely enough…whoops, I mean, “of course,” Dr. Ablow doesn’t mention where Lanza got any of the weapons and ammunition, but instead highlights just how weird (he assumes his readers will believe) it is that Lanza lived in his mother’s basement, and spent time on computers.  Remember, kids, video games kill.  Living in your mother’s basement kills.  Having a massive arsenal of weapons in the home is NOT the problem.

Getting all compassionate, Dr. Ablow goes on to say that “untreated or poorly treated mental illness is” a problem.  He even italicizes it.  Oh, wait, let me back up off of that statement a bit, so that we can see that what he actually says is that (and let this soak in), an “anti-gun agenda misses the point: Firearms aren’t the responsible variable in mass killings: untreated or poorly treated mental illness is.”  (His italics)

Well, I don’t know, Dr. Ablow…I’ve got a weird feeling that there are a lot of people out there with untreated or poorly treated mental illness who don’t commit mass killings, at least in part because they don’t have access to a bunch of guns and ammunition.  (My italics)

After his impassioned, italicized plea that guns don’t kill people, people with mental illness kill people, Dr. Ablow awkwardly segues to a brief mention of the 1927 Bath School disaster as the example of the “worst episode of school violence ever” and notes (italicized and underlined) that it “involved no gun.”  (Yes, his underlining and italicizing).

The Bath School disaster is one of those weird things that pro-gun folk like to cite as a reason why school shootings really aren’t all that bad.   Unfortunately, it kind of undermines their argument if you actually look at it—because the Bath School disaster was committed using dynamite and incendiary pyrotol—substances that are not generally sold in your local Walmart.  Those explosives in particular aren’t actually available much anymore, pyrotol having been banned for sale to farmers in 1928 (the year after the Bath School disaster—committed by a guy who owned a farm), and dynamite having largely gone off the market due to the availability of more stable explosives.

Another fun fact is that explosives tend to be rather heavily regulated by the government.  After that whole episode of Timothy McVeigh blowing up the Oklahoma City Federal Building, a whole lot of regulations got slapped on the seemingly innocuous components of his fertilizer-truck-bomb.  So, if you want to make a connection about the appropriate action to take after somebody uses a certain kind of “tool” to kill a lot of people, bringing up explosives isn’t really helping your case.  After all, we don’t encourage people to go buy more explosives to make sure the good exploders can explode the bad exploders.

Ablow also forgets to make any relevant connection between Andrew Kehoe, the man responsible for the Bath School disaster, and mental illness.  Certainly, given that Kehoe was homicidal and suicidal, he could have been detained by today’s standards if his intentions were at all known.  But from all accounts, he was a rather angry, vindictive individual, like a lot of people who commit gun crimes.  Ablow fails to delve into the possibility that Kehoe was constantly playing Grand Theft Auto XIV, eating Cheeto-and-kale sandwiches (on Dave’s Killer Bread), and drinking Baja-Blast Mountain Dew, while masturbating to animated monster porn.

In another odd turn that undermines his argument, Ablow then chooses to discuss untreated mental illness, saying (in relation to suicide of all things) that, “shooting victims don’t come close to the body count from untreated mental illness in the United States.”  Apparently, Dr. Ablow,  thinks that “shooting victims” who shoot themselves don’t count.  Because suicides make up about two-thirds of all gun-related deaths in the U.S.  And suicide by firearm makes up about half of all suicides.

To give some nice, round numbers, there are over 30,000 firearm deaths per year in the United States, with about 19,000 of those due to suicide.  There are about 38,000 suicides total.  The next-highest category of suicides is suffocation, which accounts for around 9,500 deaths.  But “suffocation” includes a variety of things such as hanging, cutting off one’s air with plastic bags over one’s head, and using one’s car exhaust to deprive an enclosed space (and, hence, oneself) of oxygen.

Along with failing to mention that suicides by gun account for the lion’s share (sorry lions) of suicides, Ablow also neglects to mention that a big piece in risk assessment and suicide prevention involves removing firearms from the homes of suicidal (and homicidal) people.  After all, why would anyone take the guns away from people who are suicidal or homicidal (or who are so paranoid as to think that the government is coming to take their guns away)?  Why would anyone take guns away as part of “fixing” the mental health system?

Dr. Ablow then makes the tragi-comedic statement that he wishes that in the year since the Newtown shootings the Surgeon General would have, “declared war on mental illness.”  I suppose Dr. Ablow means a declaration of war on mental illness—like where a lot of resources are committed to treating mental illness and maybe to getting rid of the stigma associated with mental illness—as opposed to declaring war on those with mental illness.  Because, in effect, blaming mental illness and the failures of the “mental health system” for mass shootings, instead of viewing easy access to the tools for killing (guns and ammo) is a rather shaky position to take.   As a general rule, “untreated mental illness,” which covers a huge range of possibilities, is not the vehicle by which metal projectiles end up penetrating children’s skulls.

Ablow goes on to compliment the Obama administration for providing additional funding for mental health care through the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act. No, really, a guy on Fox news said the Obama administration kinda-sorta did something good.  But he then condemns the Obama administration for undermining mental health care by trying to ensure access to mental health care via “Obamacare.”  He says that insurance companies do nothing but try to block access to mental health care, and because Obamacare tries to bring down costs, it sucks that people are going to have access to mental health care and the insurance companies that want to deny them care.

So, I think Ablow’s point is that Obama tried to do some good, but failed because he didn’t devote enough resources to it.  Increased access to mental healthcare is good, but failure to provide enough money for the highest levels of mental healthcare is bad?  What’s the remedy for that?  Dr. Ablow apparently thinks the remedy is mental health spending in whatever amount is necessary to put all people dealing with mental illness of any kind into the ongoing care of a psychiatrist…because we all know that what helps people diagnosed with a mental illness…any mental illness…is somebody who prescribes them the right medications.  Right?

Let’s do it, then, Dr. Ablow: provide unlimited funding for unfettered access to psychiatrists for all people who are diagnosed with a mental illness.  What does that entail?  Monthly check-ins with a psychiatrist?  Weekly check-ins?  Daily check-ins?  It’s hard to know what Dr. Ablow is talking about, because he states that MDs need to be in charge of the care of any person who needs mental health care.  But unless we increase spending on mental health care by billions, and find a gusher of a grad school, spewing psychiatrists, his ill-defined proposal isn’t going to work.

What Dr. Ablow (very vaguely) proposes is sheer fantasy.  And the reason he proposes fantasy to deal with a real world problem is that if a real world problem has a fantastical answer, then that real world problem never has to be solved.  We can keep saying, “Fix the mental health system,” or, “Make sure the mentally ill can’t get guns” all while we ignore the fact that we have no intention or way to fix the mental health system in the fashion proposed.

Maybe a better solution is to allow mental health professionals to evaluate people who want to buy guns.  If you meet certain diagnostic criteria, you are not allowed to own a gun.  If you own a gun, everybody in your house must undergo annual psychiatric testing.  But, then, wouldn’t the desire to own a gun be an indication of mental illness, since the intent to own a gun to protect oneself from bad guys would indicate an intention to shoot somebody?  Well, nevermind, it would all be rather expensive anyway.

Dr. Albow leans toward closing his piece out by claiming that “We haven’t done anything to meaningfully coordinate police departments and the courts with the gutted community mental health system.”  Aside from the idea that the mental health system has been “gutted,” I think those involved in dealing with the “mental health system” might find Dr. Ablow’s statements false and offensive.  Because, despite massive budget cuts, and childish blame-cops-judges-and-mental-health-providers arguments like Dr. Ablow’s, numerous police agencies, court systems, and mental health agencies have been doing their damnedest to coordinate care, and provide community education into how to navigate the complicated legal knots of the system. They’ve also been doing what they can to get guns out of the hands of people who are potentially suicidal and/or homicidal, despite the best efforts of the NRA to make sure that everyone, regardless of mental health status, has access to guns.

Dr. Ablow actually closes out his piece by claiming that the Newtown school massacre was “entirely preventable”—which I guess it was, but not by anything that would happen in Dr. Ablow’s fantasy world where psych beds and psych meds negate bullets.  He states that the real surprise in the year since the Newtown school massacre is that there wasn’t “another” Newtown massacre.  But I’m guessing that the parents of the children who were the victims of the 27 school-shooting deaths and 35 gunshot injuries committed in schools in the year following Newtown might disagree with the idea that there was not “another” Newtown.   Sure, there wasn’t a single incident where the same number of people were killed and injured. But what kind of world is Ablow living in where he is willing to excuse even one person being shot at a school in a given year, and to blame mass shootings on mental health providers and people with mental illness, while choosing to support the right of gun manufacturers to continue to provide just about anyone with access to firearms and ammunition designed specifically for killing people?

GUN CONTROL OR PEOPLE CONTROL? Part One: The NRA’s Build-a-Bogeyman Workshop

It doesn’t matter how many shots are fired and how many bodies pile up—particularly in those attention-grabbing mass shootings—the cry goes out, crafted by the NRA, that it is something other than guns and ammunition that needs to be addressed. The most recent and prevalent pro-gun meme is that it’s the mental health system that needs to be fixed, while guns are just great. In fact, guns are so great that everybody should have them all of the time, except for criminals and those people with a severe mental illness. But if any criminals or people with mental illness try to shoot any of us good people, then we can all pull out our guns and shoot them back, and definitely shoot them better, harder, faster, and, just for good measure, deader.

Prior to the pro-gun, blame-the-mental-health-system meme, it was the, “We don’t need new laws, we just need to enforce the existing laws” meme. Of course, since the NRA lobbied to make sure that the existing laws wouldn’t be enforced, and, in fact lobbied to have laws enacted that made it illegal to enforce the earlier existing laws, they had to come up with a different cheer for team shoot-em-up. So, hence: guns good; mental health system bad.

There’s this other, less clearly- and less frequently- articulated position underlying the broken-mental-health-system argument, that people working with the mentally ill are incompetent, first of all, for allowing the system to fall into disarray, and second of all, for not being clairvoyant enough to determine which of the people they encounter who express some form of homicidal ideation are just talking nonsense and which really are stockpiling weapons or have access to weapons their family members stockpiled, so that said mental health professionals can then direct law enforcement to stop the future crimes. Okay, in fairness, there are ways to assess for danger—not that the NRA didn’t lobby to try to prevent anybody in the medical and mental health fields from even asking people anything as simple as whether they have access to guns.

But fortunately, the NRA has finally stepped up and has been instrumental in working to address real-life situations and offer up functional ideas for systemic changes, like, “You guys need to fix the mental health system so that people with mental illness stop shooting people, okay?” Except there’s that whole thing about how people with mental illness who actually commit violent crimes (a very tiny portion of them) are not generally compliant with treatment if they’re even in treatment to begin with. So not only do mental health practitioners have to accurately determine which of their clients might commit violence and make sure those clients are stopped from doing so, but they also have to ferret out all of the potentially violent people with mental illness, even if they have never even met them.

Anyway, what I’m saying is that the argument about fixing the mental health system is a nonsensical argument for a WHOLE lot of reasons…most notably that it’s an argument designed for inaction as far as gun laws go, while setting up a bogeyman that can spring out and yell ‘boo!’ anytime there’s a high-profile shooting. For instance, if somebody commits atrocities, such as shooting up a theater or a school, then we can all say, “Wow, this guy was obviously disturbed. Why wasn’t he getting any help?” Or if said shooter was in treatment, we can say, “How come more wasn’t done to make sure he wouldn’t hurt anybody?” Or if there are no clear indications that a shooter was, for example, psychotic or in treatment, we can always fall back on the idea of undiagnosed mental illness. The broken-mental-health-system argument is also convenient for all those 19,000-ish annual suicides by gun.

The argument to fix the mental health system is also nonsensical because it essentially allows the problem of gun violence to go on forever. That is, no set of laws is ever going to solve the problem of murder 100%, but when the argument is that guns aren’t problematic, but the mental health care system is, then as long as there are shootings, we can keep hemming and hawing, failing to enact simple measures like universal background checks, or tracking of Internet-based weapons and ammunition sales, or making certain classes of weapons flat-out illegal.

In addition, the broken mental health system argument allows gun manufacturers to rack up more gun sales. After all, what are a few dead kids if you can rake in some extra dough by letting 24-hour news networks scare everybody into thinking they need to arm themselves against a bunch of crazy people who are going to shoot their kids? (or invade their homes, or shoot them in a theater, a mall, a church…) Just check out how gun sales spike after high-profile shootings, combined with talking heads appearing on news shows to say stupid things about how the crimes would have been avoided if only everybody on scene had been armed. Check out the secondary spike in sales when the same talking heads suggest that gun laws are going to suddenly become so restrictive that nobody is going to be able to buy a gun anymore.

On top of that, the majority of the people who parrot the broken-mental-health-system meme have no idea how the mental health system actually works, or how it interacts with law enforcement, hospitals, and the court system, or what could actually be done to “fix” it. Nor do most of them care, since it conveniently props up their view of things, without them having to actually learn or understand anything. They’re super-familiar with arguments about why killers are going to kill just as many people whether they have clips with 8, 27, 92, or 412 rounds; why it doesn’t make a difference if a person has access to a pop gun, a hunting rifle, an AK-47, or a BFG-9000; and why any gun control measure at all is useless because criminals are going to get guns anyway, and then only law-abiding citizens will be left unarmed.

Don’t bother trying to point out that all kinds of laws exist that, just as the concept of law implies, are followed by law-abiding citizens, and violated by criminals, and that what makes a person a criminal is that the person violates a law. After all, the no-gun-control stance involves absolutist/absurdist arguments where ANY restrictions on guns and ammunition mean all law-abiding citizens lose ALL access to their guns and ammo, and criminals suddenly have unfettered access to all the weapons they could ever want so that they can create the maximum amount of mayhem. It’s an argument that requires a good dose of the paranoia that persons with mental illness who carry out violent crimes sometimes exhibit.

But the logical extension of the no-gun-control kind of argument is that we could get rid of “gun crimes” and “gun criminals” completely if we could just get rid of all laws related to guns, because then there would be no gun laws to violate. Then we only have to enforce the existing laws against murder. Yup, what’s really broken is the anti-murder system in this country. And if we all had more guns, we could solve that, too.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I would absolutely love it if we, as a nation, were going to get serious about “fixing” the mental health system (makes it sound so simple, doesn’t it—kind of like fixing a leaky faucet or fixing your basset hound). But getting that fix all taken care of isn’t happening anytime soon, since it takes a whole lot of money, a whole lot of changes to the legal system, enough well-trained mental health professionals working in tandem with law enforcement and other community resources, a whole lot more places to keep persons with severe mental illness while they get treatment, and a whole lot of money. Oh, I guess I touched on that money one already.

Of course, a big block to getting the mental health system fixed is that a lot of the same people screaming at everybody about prying beloved guns from cold dead hands and fixing the mental health system are the same ones screaming to slash taxes and remove all government funding from everything everywhere. A lot of them are the same ones who worship former President Ronald Reagan, who loved the idea of shutting down psychiatric facilities in favor of “privatizing” the oversight of people with severe mental illness, who need a lot more than a place to stay and a minimum-wage worker to watch over them.

And even with that “privatization” of things like residential homes and intensive outpatient programs, guess who is paying for mental health care for the people with the most severe mental illnesses. Go on, guess. If you said “the government,” then you’re right. And if it’s a puzzle to you why people with chronic, severe mental illness aren’t getting good jobs with great insurance plans to pay for all the medications, therapy, and hospitalizations they require, well, then I obviously can’t make you understand how we’re ever going to “fix” the mental health system.

So, how do you reconcile de-funding everything in the government, including the mental health system—particularly those long-term inpatient facilities where the people with the most severe mental illnesses stay (or, rather, used to stay)—with the idea that we’re going to fix the mental health system to keep all the most dangerous people with mental illnesses off the street so that we don’t have to have any new gun control laws? Well, the real answer is that you don’t, because it’s a nonsensical argument in the first place.

Now, happily—well maybe not happily, since it took multiple mass shootings and the NRA clamoring to prevent any gun control laws from being enacted while simultaneously screaming about the broken mental health system—mental health funding is kinda-sorta being restored to the very limited levels that existed back when G.W. Bush was president. Unfortunately, those levels are still not anywhere close to the level—comparatively speaking—that such funding was at when dear, old Ronald Reagan became President. So, thanks NRA—you are advocating for restoring all 40,000-ish psychiatric ward long-term “beds” for those with chronic, severe mental illness that went away back when Ronald Reagan was in office, right?

Beyond the complete insincerity behind the NRA’s argument that the mental health system needs to be fixed, the NRA is actively doing a disservice to the people of the United States—a disservice that actually serves the NRA well by scaring up gun sales. By creating a bogeyman out of people with mental illness, the NRA promotes the idea that people who are diagnosed with a mental illness are inherently dangerous, unhinged, and likely to kill us all. Never mind that the mental health system deals with a wide array of concerns, from situational depression to anxiety disorders, PTSD to schizophrenia, and that the majority of those people are never going to commit a violent crime. By squawking that gun violence is a problem of the mental health system, as opposed to a problem with multiple facets, most notably of ensuring easy access to guns, while provoking fear of one’s fellow citizens, the NRA sets the country on yet another course to doing nothing about gun violence, while spreading ignorance about what mental illness is or what it means. The NRA provokes more fear of a big portion of the population, perpetuates a culture where people will avoid seeking help for mental health issues for fear of becoming part of that bogeyman group, and provides an excuse for inaction that will see no end. After all, as long as there are shootings by people who can be labeled as having a mental health issue–bam–the mental health system failed. It’s got nothin’ to do with the guns themselves.

If you want to consider whether the NRA has anybody’s best interest at heart, consider that following the Newtown school shootings, more than 85% of the American people supported instituting ‘universal background checks,’ but the NRA managed to ensure no action would be taken through the power of the almighty dollar. The NRA can threaten to withhold money from political campaigns, or worse, to dump massive amounts of money into campaigns to take out politicians who do anything they don’t like.

The NRA, aka the gun manufacturer’s lobby, knows that an occasional scare is good for business—and having a bogeyman is the best thing possible—especially when that bogeyman is easily stigmatized, poorly understood, and getting the problem of the bogeyman “fixed” could take forever. The whole fix-the-mental-health-system argument put forth by the NRA is nonsensical because it posits that it is easier to “fix” a complex system that attempts to address the needs of people with a broad range of conditions that are not set, uniform, or easily managed than it is to restrict access to the things that people—many who avoid contact with the mental health system prior to committing heinous acts—use to kill people.