Mental Illness, Mass Shootings, and the Politics of American Firearms

Continuing the discussion from 9 dead in gun massacre at church:

Marja makes a wonderful point here that I want to underscore.

In February, the American Journal of Public Health published an article entitled Mental Illness, Mass Shootings, and the Politics of American Firearms that sheds light on the discussion surrounding the current tragedy.

Some excerpts:

It’s a meaty article, with many possible take-aways. But one I want to emphasize is that casual invocations of “mental illness” are often inaccurate yet almost always stigmatizing. Let’s try to have more precision in where we aim our words.


I don’t want to get too far afield, but since mass shootings are rare I’d like to bring up some less rare that I think is tangentially related: successful suicide by firearm.

Guns don’t cause a person to kill others or themselves; mental illness doesn’t cause a person to successfully kill themselves or others; but add those two together with a dash of paranoia and hate, and it suddenly becomes very effective.

I really wish gun enthusiasts would come to the table for this kind of discussion. We aren’t going to cure hatred any time soon, but we can make hatred less devastating.


Relative to the rest of the developed world, mass shootings are an American thing. A fact pointed out by the president, just today.


I’m pretty pro-gun control, but focusing on guns here really seems as misaimed as mental illness. The shooter would have got a gun even if it was slightly harder to - he was apparently planning this for 6 months.

The question really should be why his racism was basically ignored - the culture that let such stuff fester, but also made people around him think it was “normal” and “harmless” to be as racist as he was.


Well, this particular kind of mass shooting perhaps. Ireland has, lets say, a history. Mexico is also dealing with problems that have a higher body count if a different motive. And while a proportion of Irelands troubles were political, another significant proportion was religious.

I can dig up lots of examples in other developed countries, but I am already depressed enough. When do we get the Space Arks?

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I think that people of the US are reluctant to try defining the boundaries between mental illness as actual pathology, and people acting out violent ideologies. The US particularly, as a culture, has a very schizoid approach. There tends to be a deep respect for and even reverence of violence - but when violent acts occur, there is a populist political process of framing the people who commit them as either heroes or monsters. But few seem willing to examine the fundamental limitations of accepting violence as a way of managing people and/or solving problems. US culture encourages competition, ruthlessness, and xenophobia - with the goal of channelling these unhealthy attitudes into “desirable” forms such as economic activity, exploitation, class warfare, colonialism, etc. And then it seems as if we are supposed to be surprised when a few people go off script and act upon these in unforeseen (but not unforseeable) and tragic ways.


Even in Mexico—a country struggling with poverty, crime, corruption and drug war-fueled violence largely of our making (both as the purchasers of said drugs and the supplier of many of their firearms)—[the rate of firearm deaths per capita][1] is STILL barely higher than the United States.

“Not quite as bad as Mexico” (a nation many Americans consider a third world country) is hardly a position to take pride in.


Point taken. What I was attempting to describe was violent deaths due to firearms aren’t just a US problem. They are a problem anywhere firearms are easy to get (almost a tautology, but one many people seem to forget).

“Not quite as bad as Mexico” (a nation many Americans consider a third world country) is hardly a position to take pride in.

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‘guns seem misaimed.’ i am glad youre taking it so seriously.

i am not sure anyone but you is trying to reduce it to just ONE cause.

and he was a gun owner. a family gift for the weird nephew who rarely left his room.

family values. USA USA.


What would attract more criticism - lowering that flag to half mast or leaving it where it was?

They could take it down entirely, perhaps.


it was installed without pulleys. intentionally no halfway.

@funruly, I usually think of the nexus of issues currently at play here in the same way that @MarjaE does, i.e., that blaming mass shootings by white men on mental illness is a way of avoiding acknowledgement and discussion of white supremacy. I hadn’t considered how doing so ALSO further stigmatizes the mentally ill, which is how I interpret your post. So thank you for adding that understanding to my thoughts, and thus to my utterances – I will try to aim words about mental illness more precisely when I use them.


Gun metaphors everywhere!

ready, fire, aim! is what i have seen a lot of on this conversation.

i’m not sure who, in all of bb, has blamed mass shootings on mental illness in the last day and a half. i see a lot of people seeking acknowledgment of white supremacy who are reading “yes, and…” as “no, but…” and then getting into quite an insulting lather about it.

Everyone stow the strawmen. try asking a question instead of a challenging summary or any sort of uncharitable equivalence that might be false.

accitentional insinuendo is really unhelpful when FOX does it. right?


Shaddack did in another thread. Love the guy to bits, but he made an inaccurate observation.

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Are you fucking kidding me?

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What @AcerPlatanoides said: no pulleys, so it has to be taken entirely down or left standing. Plus, apparently only the General Assembly can authorize it. Which they haven’t done.

I wish the media would stop using the terrorists’ euphemistic terms and instead call that flag what it is: a symbol of treason against the U.S.

EVERY SINGLE TIME it is mentioned in a news story. It’s the only way to bring those flags down permanently.


Yeah, I read that (after my post, natch). Presumably that’s specific to this particular flag, not the standard way of flying it?

More generally, I was wondering what the response would be if someone were to fly that flag at half mast as a response to these events.


Right? The irony would be kinda headsploding.


seems like a lot of complaining about one person sayig so.

just seems like grandstanding, language policing, and piling on the impure in the face of tragedy to put off personal fears of powerlessness and victimhood, but what do i know? ive only been online 23 years now. SURELY never a mistake i’ve made. ;).