The “Mental Health System” is NOT Responsible for Stopping Mass Shootings

by

JC Schildbach, LMHC

If your power was out, would you call up your dentist and cuss her/him out for not fixing your wiring? If your car wouldn’t start, would you say it was a problem for your plumber? If your spouse filed for divorce, would you seek the help of your dog-walker?

I’ll assume your answer is, “No.”

Yet, it has become a routine part of the American dialog that when mass shootings are committed, not only are we all immediately told by politicians not to ‘politicize’ such situations–politicians being those people in our society who are tasked with establishing law. But we are also told that such killings are a problem of the ‘mental health system’–which has no power to enforce law or even to make anybody get mental health care. All while law enforcement—which is, well, the means by which laws are enforced—is left out of the picture, except to say that if current laws were enforced, then we wouldn’t have such situations, and that no new laws are necessary.

In other words, pro-gun/pro-gun-lobby forces tell us that an issue properly dealt with by the legal system and law enforcement is actually a problem of the mental health system.

Think of all—or even a few–of the forms of human tragedy that involve human actions inflicting harm—or even death–on human victims.

How many of those types of violence are attributed to flaws in the ‘Mental Health System’?

We could eliminate terrorism if only we could fix the mental health system!

Drunk driving could be eradicated if only the mental health system would address the problem!

Embezzlement could be ended if only white-collar criminals had access to appropriate mental health services!

Child molestation is, at base, a mental health issue, not an issue of…what? Access to children?

Granted, it’s possible that terrorism, drunk driving, child molestation and white collar crime could potentially be reduced if those people who engage (or potentially engage) in such actions had mental health supports or other forms of guidance that led them away from those behaviors and toward more positive actions. But exactly when does anybody expect those supports to intervene, and in what form?

Gee, ma’am, we see you’ve been looking up ‘jihadist’ websites, would you maybe like some counseling to help you get those bad ideas out of your head?

Son, I notice you’ve had quite a few drinks, and your car is just outside. Perhaps if I could help you clarify your goals around driving right now, you might see that Lyft would be the better option.

Ma’am, it appears you might be toying with the idea of skimming funds from your clients. Would you mind talking with me for an hour or so, so we can map out some better life goals for you, that you then might be able to share with your friends and co-workers?

Sir, we’ve noticed you frequently hanging out just outside the Claire’s, and it seems you might be taking an unhealthy interest in young girls. Would you, perhaps, like some counseling to prevent you from ever molesting a tween?

Just so we’re all clear, mental healthcare is not predictive, except in the very narrow aspect of identifying factors that might make someone more pre-disposed to one behavior or another. But mental health interventions are rarely brought to bear, unless a person who is at risk for committing a particular act has had the foresight to seek out help her/himself, or the legal system has gotten involved because of harms already inflicted.

How many of the people who blame the shortcomings of the ‘mental health system’ for gun violence and mass shootings could give even a rudimentary explanation of what that ‘mental health system’ consists of, or offer any kind of reasonable, fact-based, evidence-based ideas that might offer even minimal improvements in the ‘mental health system’s’ ability to stop gun violence? How many of the ‘mental health system’ blamers can even explain how anybody would access mental health services…or be pushed into those services if they were a potential risk for mass shooting?

Lucy bullet

I’d guess that number is hovering somewhere between the number of arms on a rattlesnake, and the number of good sequels to ‘The Godfather’.

One major problem with the argument that the ‘mental health system’ can stop gun violence is that there is no way for the ‘mental health system’ to know who has guns and who does not, aside from the owners of guns (and perhaps their friends and family, where privacy laws don’t get in the way) telling providers in the ‘mental health system’ that they own guns—and that they intend to use them.

That is to say, unless the client of a mental health provider makes a fairly specific threat to use a gun or guns to kill somebody, or multiple somebodies, and the mental health provider knows that the client has access to those weapons, the mental health provider has very few options to stop such violence.

Hell, even in the presence of a specific threat, the mental health provider has few options other than to inform police, and hope the police can act to stop the person making the threats.

And, in case you’re wondering, the police have very limited powers to intervene where potential ‘mass shooters’ have a legal right to own guns, or when those potential shooters have not done or said anything that is actionable by police—like having made a specific threat to use firearms against specific people, and/or in specific places.

So the option to inform law enforcement is often little more than a mental health provider covering her/his own ass.   ‘I made the call to 911 at exactly 8:19 p.m. on September 29, 2017, and spoke to operator #224.’ It goes in the client record, just in case it becomes relevant in a court case.

But the cops, like mental health providers, are not some pre-cog, future-crimes superstars, able to cull out dangers just by looking at people. And even those police and mental health providers who might be extraordinarily perceptive are often hobbled by the actual law. It’s rare that somebody can be arrested or put into mental health treatment for something they might do. You see, law enforcement works on principles of catching people who have already broken laws, not on the idea that people could or might break laws. I’m not sure changing those principles would be good for any of us—getting locked up or thrown into mandator treatment based on what our personal profiles suggest we might do.

The ‘mental health system’ and the people working in that system, are there to help people overcome problems across the broad spectrum of all human problems that people can address with some psychoeducation and guidance aimed at improving self-awareness and promoting behavioral changes. The providers in that system rely solely on the communication of the people they are treating (verbal and otherwise) to convey information that might help to understand those problems and find solutions.

It’s rare for 1) a person intending to commit a mass shooting to relay that information to a mental health provider, or 2) for such a person to even be in treatment at the time s/he (okay, it’s essentially always a he) entertaining such thoughts.

On top of all that, it’s ludicrous that the gun-loving citizens of the U.S.A. somehow see the ‘mental health system’ as the solution to this problem, given their penchant for stereotyping mental health providers as a bunch of uptight women and effeminate men, and mental healthcare itself as being for the weak and obviously insane.

But then, the idea is that the people who would commit mass shootings are the type of people who would obviously be identified and locked up by professionals—because, well, that’s just how things work—right?

It’s as if the pro-gun/anti-gun-control forces simultaneously see mental health providers as the prime movers in the ‘wussification of America’, and, at the same time, super-badass profilers, who can somehow identify, and then take out, the trash that preys on innocent Americans who only want to enjoy a movie, or a day at school, or a concert, or a church service, or any other kind of public gathering, without having to fear being shot.

So what is it, all you opponents of gun control? Is ‘the mental health system’ the only thing standing between you and a bunch of violent psychopaths, hell-bent on shooting up all that is American? Or is the mental health system run by a bunch of anti-American, ivory-tower, namby-pamby know-it-alls who want to take your guns away?

You can’t have it both ways.

The real failure isn’t in the mental health system—or in law enforcement–it’s in the foolish idea that arming everyone leads to greater safety by ensuring the ability of everyone to stop everyone else who shouldn’t be allowed access to arms, and a legal system propped up by people that allow such foolishness to continue.

 

 

Advertisements

Guns Don’t Kill People. Stickers Kill People!

by

JC Schildbach, LMHC

For decades, “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people,” and “If guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have guns” did the job of letting tough guys/tough gals let everyone know that they viewed more gun violence and the threat of gun violence as the number one solution to gun violence.

But, with the Internet opening us up to increasingly contentious arguments with complete strangers, and with gun violence reaching into more and more corners of American life—claiming the lives of children at school, moviegoers, and people coming together to worship, to name just a few, the National Rifle Association (NRA) had to get more creative in promoting their simplistic ideology that guns are always the answer.

After all, how do you sell mass murder to people? How do you continue to convince people that guns are the answer to guns? How do you adapt the idea of mutually assured destruction—so effective in the global arms race—to the micro level, getting people to think it’s a great idea right in their homes and neighborhoods?

Well, you come up with more dumb slogans that are effectively meaningless, mostly untrue, and promote the continued stockpiling of weapons among the decreasing percentage of American homes where people actually keep guns.

Just read any comment thread on any article about gun violence or gun control, and it’s guaranteed you’ll see the tried and true “outlaws” and “guns don’t kill” slogans in there right alongside the NRA’s other branding strategy updates: killers will find a way to kill even if they don’t have guns; we just need to enforce the laws that are already on the books; Chicago has strict gun laws/high gun violence; mental illness is the problem, not guns; and so on.

One of the latest buzz-concepts is that “Gun Free Zones” are the problem, not guns. Put that little “gun free zone” sticker in the front window of a business or school, and it will attract mass shooters like fruit flies to old fruit.

Of course, just like every other NRA-sponsored motto, it defies logic, and isn’t actually true in any demonstrable way.

First of all, let’s take a quick look at the origins of the “gun-free zone” campaign. Of course anyone arguing on an Internet comments thread could look up the “Gun-Free Zone Act of 1990”—say, on Wikipedia which shows how completely stupid the “gun-free zones kill” argument is, but why bother knowing anything when it’s so much easier to get angry while being completely wrong?

Beware citizen!  Steer clear of this sign or you might get shot!

Beware citizen! Steer clear of this sign or you might get shot!

Basically, the act was put in place 25 years ago to keep high school students from bringing guns to school and shooting each other. Sounds pretty reasonable. Of course, gun lovers jump off at that point and say it didn’t work.  Kids are still shooting each other.  And, of course the only way to make sure kids stop shooting each other is to make sure more kids have the means to shoot each other.

Yet, as much as it may or may not have kept little Bobby from sneaking a gun into school in his Incredible Hulk backpack, one thing that the Gun-Free Zone Act did NOT do was prevent armed security personnel—and other authorized parties—from carrying guns in schools. In other words, gun-free zones are not actually gun-free. Ideally, they are free from guns in the hands of people who are not supposed to have them—just like the rest of the entire country.

That is to say, The Gun-Free Zone Act, and all of its attendant signs and window-stickers, was a politically-motivated band-aid measure that really didn’t do anything except make a few bucks for businesses that print signs and stickers.

Before the Gun-Free Zone Act, it was illegal for kids to bring guns to school and shoot each other. After the Gun-Free Zone Act, it was still illegal for kids to bring guns to school and shoot each other. The big change was that after the passage of the law, kids could get in lots and lots of trouble for bringing a gun to school, even if they didn’t actually get around to shooting anybody with it.

Due to other situations of gun violence, like mass shootings in post offices and office buildings, numerous business officials, and government bodies also decided they would declare their workplaces “gun-free zones”—basically meaning that employees were not supposed to be packing heat at their cubicles, or while stocking shelves, or sorting mail.

Somehow, though, we’ve gotten to the point where the NRA, and all of the people who parrot the NRA talking points, apparently think it is somehow unreasonable to prevent, say, junior high kids from bringing guns to school, or to keep Jerry in accounting from having a loaded weapon tucked in his waistband while he microwaves his Hot Pocket in the breakroom.

Despite the proliferation of numerous “gun-free zone” signs and stickers, schools and businesses were still free to have armed security personnel on site. And, thanks to “concealed carry” laws, which exist in several states, and often contain provisions to explicitly allow concealed carry in gun-free zones, plenty of people can actually take their guns into “gun-free zones.”

And lets be clear. Umpqua Community College—the latest site of a well-publicized mass shooting, if I get this posted before another one happens—was NOT a gun-free zone, as so many pro-gun folk are claiming. That is, concealed carry is allowed on the Umpqua Community College campus, so long as people are legally allowed to have their guns with them via concealed carry permits.

Still, there are plenty of pro-gun folk, even those who are aware that concealed carry is allowed on the Umpqua Community College campus, who inexplicably–even immediately after acknowledging that concealed carry is allowed on the UCC campus–cannot stop claiming that UCC is a gun-free zone. Apparently, allowing guns in a gun-free zone is not enough to appease some people.

Perhaps what the NRA is pushing for, with it’s blame-the-gun-free-zones campaign, is to allow open carry in schools, and everywhere else.

But what the NRA is actually demanding is the removal of gun-free zone stickers and signs. After all, the NRA has already crafted and passed many laws that have rendered the gun-free zone laws moot.

Sure, plenty of mass shootings, and just plain old shootings have happened in areas that were labeled “gun-free zones,” just like numerous shootings have taken place in areas with no such labels.

But there is zero evidence that any mass shooter ever chose a target specifically because it was labeled a gun-free zone.

And despite the frequent existence of “good guys with guns” in the very same locations where mass shootings take place—whether those are labeled gun-free zones or not—there has not been some sharp increase in citizens preventing mass shootings as the number of guns has proliferated in the United States, or some great reduction in the number of mass shootings as mass shooters get scared away at the possibility that there might be people with concealed carry permits on hand.

In other words, as much as the NRA pushes the idea that more people with guns means that mass shootings will be stopped, there are still a huge number of mass shootings, and just plain-old shootings, taking place in the United States. As much as the NRA has succeeded at establishing more concealed carry and open carry laws, the shootings haven’t stopped, or even decreased.

But it’s so much more convenient to for the NRA to launch polly-wanna-cracker slogan campaigns to its ready audience of parrots than it is for the NRA to engage in any substantive reform of laws that might actually improve the safety of all the “good guys with guns,” as well as those of us who really don’t feel the need to keep guns.

Of course, the NRA exists to provoke gun sales, not to concern itself with public safety.

In fact, the good folks at the NRA have gotten so desperate to distract the American people, that they are blaming an ineffectual band-aid law for gun violence.

So, let’s do it. Let’s take down all of the “gun free zone” signs and stickers tomorrow. All of them. Everywhere. And let’s repeal the gun-free zone laws. They’re nothing but a symbol anyway. It won’t do one stinking thing to stop gun violence, just like taking down the Confederate flag did nothing to stop gun violence.

But maybe we can shut down the talking point about gun-free zones a little quicker.

Then all the people who are suddenly so fixated on stickers and signs as the source of gun violence can get back to working on all those fixes for the mental healthcare system.

Matt Walsh Freaks Out Over Supreme Court Decision He Hasn’t Read (Or Didn’t Understand)

by

JC Schildbach, LMHC

It’s more than a bit comical that Matt Walsh accuses Justice Anthony Kennedy’s majority opinion in Obergefell v. Hodges (the same-sex marriage case) of reading “like a lengthy Facebook post written by a 17-year-old” given that Walsh, utilizing the ‘you’re-not-the-boss-of-me’-style language of 6-year-olds, titled his own angry rant about the decision “Gay Marriage Still Doesn’t Exist No Matter What the Supreme Court Says.”

Walsh really should have added two or three exclamation points and at least one angry emoji to that title.

Walsh claims, repeatedly, that Kennedy and the other majority justices simply made up the right to marry for, well, adults who Walsh thinks are gross and icky. He claims that there is no legal precedent for such a decision, and that the majority opinion “barely attempts to offer anything resembling a constitutional defense or a coherent thought.”

Matt Walsh on his porch--Why bother with an actual analysis of a Supreme Court decision my audience will never read anyway?

Matt Walsh on his porch–Why bother with an actual analysis of a Supreme Court decision my audience will never read anyway?

I’m guessing Walsh didn’t actually read the legal arguments offered in the majority opinion. Barring that, one can only assume that Walsh was so consumed with rage over all those icky and gross people being allowed to marry that he was incapable of comprehending what the opinion said—or that he’s just too stupid and childish to understand the “constitutional defense” that is offered, and offered in great detail, with multiple citations of precedent cases.

After all, Walsh does not actually link to the decision, so that his readers would be able to check the validity of his arguments. Instead, he links to another article on The Blaze (which does link to the Court opinion), and to stories on CBS News, NBC News and even, yes, to MSNBC, as evidence that the court “upended the institution of marriage, dismantled the rule of law, undermined the will of the people, and canceled out the legislative process entirely.”

Let’s take a brief pause so that you can check out the Majority Opinion. It is rather lengthy, but, in case you don’t want to read the whole thing, like many Court opinions, there is a “syllabus” at the outset (the first five pages in this case) that explains the overall issues, legal precedent, and basis for the decision.

Majority Opinion

Had Walsh read even the syllabus (and been able to comprehend it) he would have realized that the court argued:

  • The “institution of marriage” has had an evolving definition over time, which basically means his whole argument about what marriage “really” means is only so much, to borrow a phrase from Justice Scalia’s recent Obamacare dissent, jiggery pokery.
  • The rule of law was not “dismantled” in this case, but worked exactly like it was supposed to—utilizing legal precedent, and examining the specific impacts of particular laws and legal questions, to arrive at a decision about how laws can be equally applied to all adult citizens of the United States. That’s kind of the job of the Supreme Court, Matt.
  • ‘Undermining the will of the people’ is, perhaps, a bit more complicated. Yes, there are states where people voted to keep same-sex couples from marrying, just like there are states where people voted to allow same-sex marriage. But, to borrow a bit of bumper-sticker-style wisdom, that’s the great thing about rights: we don’t get to vote on who is allowed to have them and who isn’t. Everybody gets them.
  • As for “cancelling out the legislative process”—laws are subject to judicial review. That’s how that whole “balance of powers” thing is supposed to work. Funny thing is that laws can be “cancelled out” if it turns out that they’re illegal.

But Walsh tries to make the argument that the same-sex marriage decision is evidence that liberals have taken over everything throughout all of America, and are doing all they can to attack Christians and make the once-great United States of America into some gross, icky thing where Matt Walsh has to put up with gross, icky people, just because liberals want to make people like Matt Walsh all mad and uncomfortable and stuff.  Walsh seems to forget that there are plenty of Supreme Court case decisions that liberals haven’t been particularly happy about, but when you have a persecution complex, you have to ignore all evidence that doesn’t allow you to play the victim (especially as you accuse others of playing the victim).

There are multiple meltdowns throughout Walsh’s piece, including this string of ‘ideas’ that sound like an affirmation for people suffering a break from reality because of the Court decision: “There is no right to gay marriage. There is no gay marriage. It’s not real. It’s not possible. It’s make-believe. It means nothing.”

It almost makes you feel sympathetic enough that you wish one of Matt’s super-heterosexual friends would grab him by the shoulders, slap him, and tell him to get a grip.

Walsh continues on with a segment that he subtitles “What is a Right?” He makes the claim that, to liberals, “a right is some sort of cosmic force that guarantees him access to whatever he happens to want,” going on to enlighten everyone that “Constitutional rights” and “human rights” are, instead, those rights bestowed on us by our “Creator.” So, rights are not a “cosmic force,” but rather granted by our “Creator.” Good thing Walsh cleared that up. It all makes sense now.

But just a few follow up questions–does the Creator grant us rights based on what we want, or what we need, or is there some other criteria?  And does the creator only grant those rights to heterosexuals?  Or, maybe the heterosexuals get some of those rights to themselves, but not all of the rights only to themselves?

Also included is a segment subtitled “What is Homosexuality” in which Walsh argues that anything other than good, old, heterosexual, marriage-based boning is just a bunch of twisted urges that people can walk away from.  Or, in other words, if you think you might be something other than completely heterosexual, you are confused and looking to justify your desire to engage in sinful behavior.

Okay, Matt, we all get that you’re confused by the idea that there are people who think sex might involve more than just attempts to make babies, and that gender identity might involve more than the binary boys vs. girls. But your confusion doesn’t mean that you are an expert on human sexuality. In fact, your confusion pretty much means that you’re the opposite of an expert on human sexuality—some might even say that it means you’re completely ignorant and should probably not say anything else on this topic–at all–ever.

In Walsh’s view, there are greater goods to be achieved by marriage, such as stability in society.  But, he asserts that somehow that stability is undermined unless marriage exists only so that families can be created–and created by fertile, heterosexual couples. Walsh does not feel the need to fully explain himself here, as we all know that families are only and always created by heterosexuals marrying and having children—no exceptions. We also know that having children is the only reason people get married, and that anyone who is not heterosexual does not have/belong in a family.

Walsh says that even though the Supreme Court changed the definition of marriage in this case, there are still limits on marriage that the court is willing to enforce, and wonders why that is. Of course, most of the examples of marriage limitations that Walsh cites are pointless—a human and anything non-human, three or more humans, multiple humans along with other non-humans, an adult and a child, etc. These arguments are meaningless, because the Court is not asserting that marriage involves anything other than two adults willingly entering into a legal relationship, which is the question the Court was charged with answering.

Those situations Walsh hightlights where there is potential for further clarification of legal definition—including the example of a brother and sister wanting to get married, or multiple people wanting to get married in a polygamous union—are not involved in the current decision. Arguably, it is possible that cases involving such relationships could come up in the future. But they are not at question now, and the same-sex marriage decision does nothing to allow such unions. For now, the decision allows each adult to enter into a (non-incestuous) consensual marital relationship with one other adult—which means it is giving all adults the same, basic right, instead of granting it only to the people Walsh thinks are not gross and icky.

Ignoring the entire history of marriage, which has involved a range of issues much more than simple love and procreation between two God-fearing Christians, Walsh makes the absurd claim that marriage is only and always a union condoned by God and God alone, having nothing to do with the state. He, for example, ignores the fact that marriage predates even the Jewish religion, not to mention the Christian religion, and that much of it involved such events as arranged marriages that were tied to issues of property and inheritance, including those property exchanges where the wives were considered part of the property. I’m guessing Walsh is okay with at least some of the changes in the definition of marriage that have occurred over time; although if that is the case, it would essentially undermine his own argument of an eternal, monolithic definition of marriage.

Walsh further asserts that allowing only heterosexual marriage does nothing to harm gay people, and that, “Before the legalization of gay marriage, the government wasn’t ‘involved’ in marriage, as so many have claimed.” This is just patently stupid. One would have to be completely ignorant of what the law says about property rights, transfer of property rights, legal say over medical decisions, legal say over custody rights of children, and numerous other legal rights, responsibilities, and benefits that come with marriage to make such an argument.

And even if Walsh was ignorant of the myriad rights and legal benefits that marriage confers, he would have understood at least some of those issues if he had bothered to actually read the Majority Opinion, or even the syllabus of the Majority Opinion, wherein several specific situations of the petitioners are made clear, involving (gay) adults and their families being deprived of rights because they were not legally allowed to be married, or because one state recognized that right, but another did not.

It’s irresponsible enough to assert that something represents an illegal power grab by one’s political opponents simply because one disagrees with that thing. It’s even worse to assert that something lacks legal standing when one has not bothered to read and understand that thing. And it’s worse, still, to assert that something lacks legal standing when one has read and understood that thing, and simply decided one would rather argue to the contrary for one’s audience, knowing full well that said audience will not bother to read and understand the original thing and are simply looking for someone to lay out an argument that supports their own anger and lack of understanding.

In this case, giving Walsh the benefit of the doubt would mean one of a few very distasteful options: that he either didn’t read the Court opinion, or that he didn’t understand it. Otherwise, he is deliberately lying to his readers.

In the end, Walsh’s argument comes down to his view of what is right, based only on his beliefs. But rather than asserting that it is his view, he asserts that what he views as right is the absolute truth, and that it is backed up by God Almighty as it has always been and always will be.

Walsh apparently doesn’t recognize that even God changes God’s mind—I mean, at least if you believe in that whole law/gospel, Old Testament/New Testament business.

Still, I will grant that Walsh is right about one thing.

There is no such thing as gay marriage.

It’s just marriage now.

Elonis and the ‘Art’ of the Online Threat

by

JC Schildbach, LMHC

Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court decided that making threats on social media isn’t always making threats on social media.

Call it the jk standard.

Or don’t call it that. That’s not really what the Supreme Court decided.

In this particular case, (Elonis v. United States, 13-983 U.S. ___ (2015)) a rather sad and unpleasant man named Anthony Douglas Elonis took to calling himself “Tone Dougie” on Facebook, where he wrote and posted “lyrics” and “comedy routines” involving threats to his ex-wife, former co-workers, an FBI agent, and elementary school children. But the Supreme Court really only decided whether the jury that convicted Elonis of criminal offenses was given the appropriate instructions for deciding that conviction.

So, the Supreme Court was not looking at whether Elonis legitimately acted in a criminal fashion, but whether the jury was instructed to apply the wrong standard in his case. In the court that convicted Elonis, the jury was asked to apply the “reasonable person” standard that is used in civil cases involving threats, when they should have been asked to apply the “criminal intent” standard that is used in criminal cases.

In other words, it’s as if the jury was instructed to decide whether Elonis should be forced to pay a financial penalty to the people he antagonized, and the jury said ‘yes,’ so Elonis got thrown in prison. The question the jury was asked did not match up with the penalty Elonis received—legally anyway.

So, while “reasonable persons” might recognize that Elonis was deliberately threatening his wife and numerous other people, a criminal conviction generally requires a standard of “criminal intent”—or proof that it was Elonis’ intent to threaten his wife, and the others.

The jury should have been instructed to decide whether Mr. Elonis had intended for his posts to be viewed as threats by those people who were the targets of those threats. Elonis argued that his posts were just “art” and a “therapeutic” way of working through his pain after his wife took their children and left him. Elonis and his lawyers pointed to Eminem as an artist who has built much of his career on songs threatening violence against his ex, and to the other posts on Elonis’ facebook feed where he asserted he was engaging in protected free speech, joking, or that otherwise had nothing to do with the threats, as proof that Elonis was not deliberately threatening anybody.  That is, Elonis argued that he had artistic and self-soothing intent, not intent to threaten anybody. And, although reasonable people might call bullshit on Mr. Elonis’ argument, reasonable people don’t count here.

There is ample evidence to suggest that Mr. Elonis did, in fact, intend for his targets to feel threatened. For instance, one of his jaunty little poems/rap songs questioned whether his wife’s protection order–granted because a judge saw that there was legitimate reason to keep Mr. Elonis away from his wife and their children–would, when folded up and stuffed in her pocket, be “thick enough to stop a bullet.” That same “poem” included claims that Elonis stood to earn plenty of money in a “settlement” against the police, and claims to own explosives that could be used against state police and sheriffs.

A little background from the court opinion, highlighting Elonis' 'art.'

A little background from the court opinion, highlighting Elonis’ ‘art.’

Another of Elonis’ quirky little fantasies involved slitting the throat of the (female) FBI agent who was sent to his house to question him about a Facebook post wherein Mr. Elonis suggested he was going to gain fame by shooting up an elementary school.

Elonis also posted some “art” suggesting that he could easily sneak into the Halloween events at the amusement park he was fired from, in order to engage in violence.

Such fun. So expressive.

Grammar fans are also upset by Elonis’ use of the botched phrase, “if worse comes to worse,” in his poem about his wife’s protection order.

There were other posts involving insults and threats against his wife, calling her a slut and a whore, indicating he should have smothered her with a pillow, posting floor plans of the house where she was staying, and describing how, from a nearby cornfield, he would have a clear shot in through some glass doors at said house.

And beyond just the words that Elonis posted, there were plenty of other indications that his words were meant as more than just artistic expressions.

For instance, Elonis called his sister-in-law to make sure his wife had seen his posts on Facebook. And, prior to threatening his co-workers online, he was fired, in part, because he had begun to undress in front of a female coworker after cornering her in her office one night.

But—and this is a big but—the Supreme Court wasn’t deciding whether Elonis’ actions were A-OK, or whether he was engaging in acts of protected speech. In fact, the Court declined to address the issues of free speech, since the main question was about whether Elonis had been wrongly convicted.

Simply stated, the Court decided that, because Elonis was convicted on criminal charges by a jury using the standards for a civil decision, Elonis had been wrongly convicted of a criminal offense.

This is not to say that the jury would not or should not have convicted Elonis had the jury been given the appropriate instructions–to decide Elonis’ (criminal) guilt based on whether he had criminal intent to threaten his wife and other parties—rather than deciding whether a reasonable person would have recognized Elonis’ words and actions as threatening.

"Ammo Can Kiss."  Media: Selfie.  Artist: Tone Dougie

“Ammo Can Kiss.” Media: Selfie. Artist: Tone Dougie

So take heart, reasonable people. The Elonis case does not mean that threats are now a protected form of speech. I would guess that a jury would likely see Elonis’ behavior as meeting the criminal standard of having legitimate intent to threaten—given the specificity of the targets and actions laid out in his ‘rap lyrics.’ That the targets of Elonis’ behavior took his words as legitimate threats, and lived in fear of what he might do, and that his “art” provoked the necessity for a visit and monitoring by the FBI, suggests that Elonis was not somebody who was just a misunderstood artist.

Yet, that’s a question for another day. Or, put a different way, the Supreme Court makes decisions based on the questions it gets, not the questions the public wants answered. And the only question the Court really decided here was whether the jury got the right instructions to make the decision they were tasked with making in the Elonis case.

To be sure, the Supreme Court’s decision leads to a shift in how cases like Elonis’ will have to be prosecuted. Plenty of lower courts have allowed criminal convictions using the same “reasonable person” standard that was used in the Elonis case. And the “criminal intent” standard can be much harder to prove.

There is much to be said about how to successfully address online threats, and questions of how our slow-moving legal system can adequately respond to rapidly- changing technology and online environments. For practical advice on those issues, Crash Override, started by Gamergate target Zoe Quinn, is an excellent resource

And in related entertainment news, I’m guessing Tone Dougie’s album drops around the 12th of Never.

Pam Geller’s Free Speech Chum

by

JC Schildbach, LMHC

Two heavily armed, body-armor-clad, wannabe-jihadists shooting a security guard in the ankle and then getting picked off by a pistol-wielding traffic cop in a parking lot outside a cartoon contest in small-town Texas is not, as Pam Geller would have us believe, some kind of religious war in the United States. Rather, it was Geller’s own failed effort to start a larger fight.

Before I go any further, let me state up front that Geller, along with everybody else in America, has every right to say whatever paranoid, delusional things she wants to say about the inevitable imposition of Sharia Law and the ensuing mandatory ‘honor killings’ by our ‘secret Muslim’ President. She also has every right to hold a cartoon contest deliberately designed to insult a particular group of people over their religious views. Said group of people, or any of its members, has the right to fight back with words, logic, cartoons or delusional rants of their own—but not with bullets, bombs, or knives.

Let me also point out that some people have stated that there are prohibitions against engaging in speech that is designed to incite people to violence. But that doesn’t really apply in this case. If Geller held a rally where she encouraged the attendees to go out and physically attack somebody, then she would be inciting people to violence. Saying something to deliberately offend somebody is not inciting that person (or group) to do anything. Their reaction is entirely up to them.

That said, Geller sailed into Garland, Texas, along with Dutch politician Geert Wilders, to hold a cartoon contest intended to insult Muslims over their belief that the Prophet Muhammad should not be depicted in any physical form—much less in any deliberately offensive form. (Judaism and Christianity, among other religions, have similar prohibitions written into their holy books regarding depictions of holy figures, but plenty of Christians really like pictures and statues of Jesus—unless they’re offensive, in which case they call for bans on whoever made them, whatever paid for them, and whoever hung them on a wall).

Geller’s reason for holding the event at a community center in Garland was apparently related to a Muslim event held there earlier in the year, called “Stand with the Prophet in Honor and Respect,” an event which had been held in Chicago the previous year. In 2015, the “Stand with the Prophet” event had the unfortunate coincidence of having been scheduled to occur shortly after the Charlie Hebdo attack in Paris.

Geller has stated that her cartoon contest is intended as a response to the Charlie Hebdo attack. The Charlie Hebdo folks, though, were equal-opportunity offenders. That is, they didn’t seek only to piss off Muslims, they wanted to piss off everybody. And they’d been going at it for years. They didn’t just hire their own little paramilitary-force-for-a-day and set about trying to troll militant Muslims.

Geller, on the other hand, tried to chum the waters with her cartoon contest, thinking she’d draw a feeding frenzy of violent jihadists to her little event—perfect target practice for the $10,000 worth of security she hired. What she got instead was a pair of inexperienced, young pups, mouths full of aimlessly-chomping teeth, drunk on the blood and guts of Geller’s antagonism, who bit off way more than they could chew.

We're gonna need a dumber boat!

We’re gonna need a dumber boat!

Geller, when she isn’t directly attempting to insult all Muslims, claims that she is an opponent of Muslim extremists and extremism. However, she does not actually draw that line, or make any consistent effort to explain where that line actually is. To her, Muslims who actually do attack things and people like her cartoon contest and its attendees are seen as proof that she is right about the intent of Muslims to take over America and kill all non-Muslims. Unfortunately, to Geller, Muslims who do not attack are seen as evidence of a quiet, creeping plot—sleeper cells who are biding their time, before they make their move to take over America and kill all the non-Muslims.

Geller also claims she is a defender of free speech, religious freedom, and individual rights. But, again, her position on such freedoms is a bit muddled. For instance, if she is so supportive of religious freedom, it’s hard to understand why she pushed so hard to stop the “ground zero mosque” from being opened, or why she spends so much time antagonizing Muslims in general, accusing the religion as a whole, and all of its adherents, in whatever form, of heinous crimes (and future crimes).

Likewise, Dutch madman Wilders has attempted to ban the Quran in his home country, as well as trying to prevent mosques from being built there—all under the guise of protecting women and other ‘victims’ of Islam. These are not exactly the actions of someone who thinks that the ‘marketplace of ideas’ will lead to the best possible outcome.

In short, Geller and Wilders are in favor of freedoms for those who they agree with, but want to shut down those with whom they disagree, even if Geller’s and Wilder’s disagreements are with vague caricatures of their alleged enemies, or if those disagreements are assumed to apply to all people who fit under a vast umbrella of a label.

Yet, despite Geller’s and Wilders’ proclamations of war, Elton Simpson and Nadir Hamid Soofi do not represent all of Islam anymore than, say, Michelle Bachmann represents all of Christianity, or anymore than Geller and Geert actually represent the concerns of all people as relates to freedom of speech and freedom of religion.

Still, if we’re going to ban Geller from her weird little attention grabs, than might we also have to ban things like, say, The Book of Mormon (the play, not the book)?  As much as the authors of The Book of Mormon might have been making a more nuanced critique of religion and what it means to believe, they certainly weren’t out to avoid offense.

And if we’re going to justify Simpson’s and Soofi’s actions as some kind of expected or normal response to Geller’s provocation, then aren’t we moving dangerously in the direction of saying that perpetrators of violence are only acting in ways that the victims of the violence should have expected, and have to accept?

Make no mistake, there are consequences to Geller’s form of speech. The main form of those consequences is that stupid people will agree with her, and will buy into her ridiculous ideas that there is some vast Muslim conspiracy that is mere days away from taking away all of our freedoms as U.S. citizens in order to impose Sharia law. Said stupid people may even commit violent acts of their own, and will certainly engage in forms of speech that are as similarly unappealing as Geller’s. There is also the potential consequence that people of the Muslim faith around the world will view Americans as somehow aligned with Geller’s form of thinking (as opposed to tolerating it, because that’s what we do). Such people may view our tolerance of Geller as evidence of the ill intent of Americans toward the Muslim world, potentially perpetuating a long chain of conflict.

Although I’m not exactly demonstrating this by writing about them, perhaps the best response to people like Geller and Wilders is the response that all but two of the members of the Muslim community in the United States exercised: ignoring them/refusing to take the bait.

Evelyn Beatrice Hall, writing about Voltaire, expressed the core idea of freedom of speech as follows: “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” I’m not sure I’m actually willing to take a bullet so that Geller can continue to peddle her special brand of targeted, incendiary bullshit. But I’m definitely not ready to make an argument that she must be shut down/shut up (like the arguments she has made about Muslims).

At the same time, I’ve also written numerous pieces suggesting that maybe certain forms of speech should be curbed in an attempt to reduce hostility toward people with mental illness, toward minorities, and toward people who generally don’t find themselves at the top of the power pyramid. Curbing such speech is, of course, a matter of personal choice, and a matter of seeking to be decent human beings. Under the banner of individual freedom, we get to say and do what we want, so long as we aren’t actually hurting anybody in some directly demonstrable way.

Of course, Geller isn’t on some quest to prove what a decent person she is, or what decent people Americans are in their acceptance of diverse traditions and differing viewpoints. She’s not on any kind of mission to promote free speech, despite her claims to the contrary.

And Elton Simpson and Nadir Hamid Soofi went down to Garland Texas with the intent to fight and die, much like Geller and Wilder went down to Garland Texas to try and provoke a fight.

They all got what they wanted—sort of.