Mental Illness is a Cynical Deflection from Gun Violence — Don’t Fall for it

We know this, because the folks who use it don’t want to do anything to address mental illness either

Tim Wise

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Image: Sonsedska Yuliia, Shutterstock, standard license purchased by the author

Whenever another mass shooting makes headlines, as with the recent killing of six — including three nine-year-old children — at a private Christian school in Nashville, the response from conservatives is predictable.

Unwilling to do anything to regulate guns, even the weapons of war so often used in these events — which, in the case of the Covenant School shooting, fired over 150 rounds in a matter of minutes — they pivot immediately to the issue of mental health.

As in, the issue isn’t guns; it’s mental illness. If we could address the latter — perhaps along with the sinfulness they often mention as part of their tendency to reduce everything to some Biblical struggle between good and evil — the problem would disappear.

And yet, when pressed to do something substantive about mental illness, these same forces always punt.

They never propose any legislation to improve access to mental health services.

In fact, when such legislation is proposed, inevitably by more liberal and progressive lawmakers — who agree that guns are not the only problem and, yes, addressing mental illness is also a great idea — they almost uniformly oppose it.

For instance, consider the Mental Health Matters Act, introduced in Congress last year and passed by the House, only to die in Senate Committee, at least for now.

The bill sought to provide substantial new mental and emotional health care resources, especially to young people who need them.

It called for evaluating best practices for delivering such care to children and youth and ensuring access to such services in schools where they could be provided to all kids.

It sought to provide trauma-informed care for young people impacted by various adverse childhood experiences and to ensure that counselors are appropriately trained in providing such care.

And all but one Republican in the House voted against it.

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Tim Wise

Anti-racism educator and author of 9 books, including White Like Me and, most recently, Dispatches from the Race War (City Lights, December 2020)