In my professional life, before I began writing novels, I was a psychologist. In the course of my work, I met hundreds of wonderful, courageous, loving, generous people. They all suffered some form of mental illness.
After each drumbeat of the tragic mass shootings in our beloved country, a chant arises from the right wing of the choir.
Like any chant, it follows its rubric carefully, meticulously. (Chants, you know, have no power if they are improvised, disorderly, undisciplined. Ask any monk, any member of any choir.) The chant goes like this:
We are outraged: This evil strikes again
For the victims and their families, women, children, men:
We send our thoughts and prayers.
It is too soon to speak of guns,
We must honor our departed ones,
And offer them our thoughts and prayers.
The killer was mentally ill, an animal, deranged.
Not like us, not like those of us who exchange
Our thoughts and prayers.
This chant is an obscenity.
“Thoughts and prayers” are not the anti-dote to mental illness, treatment is. But what has the present administration given us regarding mental illness? A law expanding access to guns for the mentally ill!
As if to say, “We will arm your killers, and when you are dead, we will pray for you.”
Yes, outrageous. But an even deeper outrage, to me, is the way politicians hide their cowardice toward the NRA behind tough language about mentally ill persons. Their veiled (but only thinly veiled) implication is that every mentally ill person is a potential mass murderer. If “mental illness” causes mass shootings, then . . . This is not only nonsense, it is insidious, hateful nonsense. It casts a shadow on every law-abiding, loving, hard-working person who happens to suffer from a mental illness.
If I were to twist the truth in the same way about gun owners, I could write: “All mass shooters are gun owners. The problem here isn’t guns, it’s owning a gun.” (This is a variant on the NRA’s “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people.” It just takes it one logical step further—therefore, owning a gun is the problem.) But that would be nothing else than hateful, dishonest, and cruel nonsense, equal in depravity to “guns don’t kill people, mentally ill people kill people.”
Just as millions of gun owners are lawful, decent, caring human beings and the gun owners who kill are a vanishingly small number of them, so too millions of Americans who suffer from some form of mental illness are upright, caring, and decent people and the number of mass shooters with mental illness is infinitely small. To tar all those good people in either group with the cowards’ brush—“We don’t have a gun problem here, we have a mental illness problem”—is perhaps a more hateful and fateful evil than gun violence itself.
Because it is an evil perpetrated by those who do not need to do it, who commit it to divert attention from the real causes, the real problems, the real issues that make gun violence “as American as apple pie.” It is a vast smear against millions of decent people that further divides and weakens our country.
We don’t need to “make America great again”—it is already great.
We need to make America honest again.