An Observation About Mental Illness

[Content Note: Guns; sexual violence; disablism; self-harm.]

So, earlier today, the NRA's Wayne LaPierre suggested that a national database of people with mental illness is a reasonable preventative measure to curb mass shootings:
The truth is, that our society is populated by an unknown number of genuine monsters. People that are so deranged, so evil, so possessed by voices and driven by demons, that no sane person can every possibly comprehend them. They walk among us every single day, and does anybody really believe that the next Adam Lanza isn't planning his attack on a school, he's already identified at this very moment? How many more copycats are waiting in the wings...? A dozen more killers, a hundred more? How can we possibly even guess how many, given our nation's refusal to create an active national database of the mentally ill?
Now, this has the same problems I've previously delineated regarding flagging mental illness: That not all people with mental illness are violent; that not all violent people are mentally ill; that not all mental illness looks the same, especially when "mental illness" is used so broadly as to group all manner of psychological disabilities into one giant category that its evocateurs evidently use synonymously with "fucked in the head."

But here is a further issue with LaPierre's contemptible suggestion: There are millions of people in the United States whose mental illnesses have been caused by trauma.

My mental illness was caused by trauma. The person who raped me owned a gun. I remember him pulling it out from under the seat of his car and showing it to me, and how, as I looked at the glistening steel, my head got light and I had the curious thought that I was too busy trying not to faint in the presence of this weapon, this thing that could kill me, to be scared of it. It was his father's gun. His father owned lots of guns.

One of the things that kept me from reporting what was happening to me sooner was that gun, and the threats that accompanied its every brandishment. I will kill your family. I will kill your dogs. My dogs, who lived outside. I let myself be hurt again and again because of the fear of that gun and what it could do.

Not just to me, but to everyone and everything I loved.

The NRA's position is that if I had had access to a gun, that wouldn't have happened. The NRA is wrong. Because there is no way that I could have held a gun in my hands and pointed it at him and pulled the trigger. Not even in the very worst moment. Part of that is something in my individual constitution. Part of it is that I sort of loved him in a teenage way once upon a time, and it's hard for me to imagine killing someone I don't know who is trying to hurt me, no less someone I do, and someone I once trusted and adored. And part of it is that, for some people, of whom I'm one, the experience of having violence done to you gives you a kind of inflexible resolve not to do the same to anyone else, ever.

I would say an inability, but that is not right. I have the capacity to do violence to others. I utterly lack the will.

Some of the survivors of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting will emerge with an altered disposition not unlike my own. I don't mean just the cringing aversion to doing violence to others and the compulsion to do violence to oneself. I mean the mental illness of which it is a part.

That is the thought I cannot escape when I hear Wayne LaPierre make even passing mention of a national database of people with mental illness. Some, or all, survivors of the shooting which prompted his grotesque public statement will inevitably belong on that theoretical list, because of the trauma done to them.

In favor of Othering the decidedly human shooters behind these attacks, he speaks of evil and monsters and demons, and he carelessly elides the psychological carnage they leave in their wake, refusing to acknowledge the post-traumatic stress disorder, the anxiety, the depression, and the associated afflictions with which many victims of trauma who are lucky enough to survive are unlucky enough to be left with.

The person who raped me would almost certainly not be flagged for mental illness with a propensity for violence, but, even if he were, we'd end up on that list together—which reveals what such a database really is: The names of the people who are inconvenient to justifications of the NRA's bullshit policies.

People who might do violence. People who have had violence done to them.

There is something indescribably vile about a proponent of unregulated access to guns throwing us all in together, refusing to acknowledge in even the most cursory way the association between surviving gun violence, trauma, and mental illness.

The lack of decency and accountability is hardly surprising, but it is no less loathsome.

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