Guns + Mental Illness + Public Apathy = Violence

Venn diagram ABC RGB
Venn diagram ABC RGB (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Another day in the U.S. — another mass shooting on a college campus, this time (you can’t make it up) at a Oikos, a Christian university in Oakland, California. It happened Monday in Oakland, a city right next to San Francisco, whose airport I flew back to New York from this morning.

This time, seven were killed and three injured when a former student, One Goh, opened fire.

As usual, the cliches spill forth: “senseless tragedy”, “just like a movie”, “I thought I was going to die.”


I don’t write this so cynically out of any disrespect for the dead, injured or their families.

But it’s going to happen again, and again and again and again.

It’s never if, but when.

It’s estimated that 30 percent of American homes contain at least one firearm, some with a virtual arsenal. It’s also estimated that 25 percent of the population, during their lifetime, will suffer a mental illness.

If you know Venn diagrams, you quickly realize this is a lethal combination, one I described in my first book, “Blown Away: American Women and Guns”. In it, I include the stories of women whose sons and husbands and fathers committed suicide or homicide using a firearm.

There are many reasons that such mass murders simply never budge the needle in American public policy, from an economy still in tatters for millions — placing gun control at the bottom of a very long to-do list — to a nation deeply divided, sometimes even within the same state, on the need for an armed populace with the right to carry or to shoot to kill, even if someone is trying to steal your vehicle.

The case of Trayvon Martin is currently testing the limits of the public appetite for private self-defense — a young man shot dead while walking through a gated Florida community. His shooter was Hispanic, the victim — unarmed — black.

I’ve lived in the U.S. since 1988. I understand why gun violence is so much a part of this society.

I don’t understand, viscerally, why it’s still considered acceptable.

12 thoughts on “Guns + Mental Illness + Public Apathy = Violence

  1. I would like to see the media talk about this a bit more than it has. There is no doubt that a conversation on race was spurred by the Trayvon Martin case, and that’s a good and necessary thing (although it’s disgusting that the discussion only happens after incidents like this occur). The gun issue is every bit as central to this story, however, and it has been in the shadows during most of the public debate about this case. Everyone, regardless of race, is affected by lax laws regarding gun access and use, and the fact that so many politicians are under the influence of powerful lobbyists from the gun industry is a huge threat to democracy and to the safety of the general public.

  2. Hmmm, this is a hard one for me…

    I was born and raised in this country (born in 1969). I belong to the Green Party. I’m a 22-year old vegetarian (almost vegan! Trying!). And I’ve voted for Ralph Nader every year I could except the last election (Pain fear). But I argue about gun laws with my NZed-born husband all the time.

    The thing is – I like the IDEA of being able to arm myself. Don’t ask me why. I’ve never owned a gun and don’t plan to, but I like the idea that I can if I wanted to. I think the existing laws are fine – if they were enforced. I just don’t think we do enough self-policing in that regard. I think gun-safety should be a priority in this nation rather than gun-control. Maybe gun-safety should be taught in the schools?

    (Better go hide under my rock…)

    1. I hear you!

      If you read Blown Away, you would find (the first two chapters are on website, free) that I equate the freedom to have an abortion with the freedom to arm oneself — a fundamental right of self-determination. That does NOT mean I think abortions are a fab idea and an easy out, nor that we all should rush out and arm up. But, like you, I want the freedom to make my my own decisions about my own body.

      I was also victimized by a career criminal and after my local police and district attorney (!) refused to arrest or prosecute him, my views on this changed. If I feel endangered and you REFUSE to protect me legally, what exactly am I then to do? I did not buy a gun for that purpose nor would I, but I would defend another’s right to do so.

      The problem is that gun laws are poorly enforced and that no matter how many laws you enact, there will be still be homes with mental illness and substance abuse within them — at which point ANY firearm (in my view) in that home needs to be removed for the duration. But that is not going to happen…

      1. Which goes back to the self-policing thing. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.

        I’ll have to check out your book. 😉

  3. The problem is that there really is little new to add….and the media POV is very colored by politics. The NYT, for whom I write freelance, is deeply opposed to most forms of gun ownership and so there is no conversation, just polemics.

    Not sure what the media could do differently (not that I disagree with you in principle.)

  4. Living in the south, I am always disturbed how aggressively such a large chunk of the population promotes/ adopts the usage of guns. It was just the other day a local shop was criticized for not allowing firearms in the building… because the building was a bar.

    1. It is indeed very regional, this enthusiasm for gun use and ownership. In some places, there is peer pressure to own, carry and use one. Here in suburban NYC even mentioning a gun makes most people walk away from you in disgust.

    2. Oh my goodness, I heard about this on the news! Do you live in Charleston? I found that ridiculous. I mean, really? Drunken assholes already start fights in bars. Now they’re going to be armed with guns? I think not.

      1. I live in suburban NY which has very strict gun control laws. I spend most of my fun time in NYC which has even tougher ones. So this does not touch me personally.

        But it is a crucial issue.

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