In my past life as an educator instructing college-level argumentation, students would frequently solicit my views on a gamut of current events, including this one, which has slipped again into media scrutiny since the recent tragedy at Thousand Oaks, California. Friends and family—including one victim’s mother—are pleading for and organizing with the commitment to enact the most comprehensive and historic gun-control legislation beginning this next year.
My response since time memoriam has been, “I will have a serious conversation on gun-control in America once there has been a serious discussion on mental health in America.”
But little to nothing has been covered since Thousand Oaks on mental health reform—on the inarguable need for greater attention and expansion of resources necessary to remedy what invariably has led to most American mass shootings: mental disorders and diseases, whose funding for effective and sustained treatment continues a decline as precipitous as any corresponding acts of mass violence have become frequent.
Treating a gun as an end is believing that gun-control legislation will effectively reduce or prevent the occurrence of mass violence. Guns are not an end to a means; legislating them either out of existence or into a black market and believing in such an outcome is as absurd as it is dangerous. And believing that a resounding attitude will always lead to intentioned outcomes is dangerous as it is lethal. Guns are a means, a tool—one of innumerable others that humans can calculating use to pleasure the itch to kill. Guns are not the problem; the act of killing is the problem. Trusting otherwise is shooting the messenger with the presumption that destroying him somehow invalidates the message and its consequences.
And the irrationality of banning guns outright must logically extend to other equally absurd reactions, including a complete ban on automobiles. And any “best-case scenario” the opposition might tout does not apply to gun-control legislation as it would in emergency situations as they would have one believe. Genuine emergencies grant few options, are immutable, and conclude as predictably as any present empirical evidence determines. Democratic legislation, on the other hand, is not bound by such fundamentals. Moreover, no precedent exists on which to base any previous gun-control measures as provenly effective. Preventative legislation is radically different than, say, seatbelt laws—a false analogy I have had to routinely expose to the gun-control activists that wield it.
I understand the emotional responses despite my disagreement with demands born from them. I cannot imagine the pain of losing someone to such a despicable act, but one that undoubtedly exposes the mental dysfunction undergirding it. And I acknowledge how tone-deaf and undermining some responses have been to what undoubtedly is a critical public health issue that personally touches a nerve across many professions and among numerous roles, including those as obvious as health care.
But conflating what sounds attractive with what proves effective only satisfies a sense of righteousness rather than achieves what is right. And the attractiveness of instituting a ban or a limitation is definitely more attractive: it is easier, quicker, and cleaner. It is more satisfying, even. But such prohibitions are reductive and spurn the greater, typically more complex causes whose sensible solutions would not only preclude such oversimplifications from occurring but also perhaps prevent the tragedies that fuel such reduction in the first place.
But onward as we continue to collectively deny or disregard the indisputably more pressing issue of mental health, one graver than all its violent manifestations. Ahead as we continue to reduce treatments that simply deny access rather than induce progress. And forward as we continue to feed a false narrative whose overtones are more political than humanitarian.
Improving mental health resources and coverage will of course not guarantee a cease-fire, but directly addressing the source and not the symptoms of mental disorders and diseases will always prove more prudent than enacting unnecessary gun-control legislation that consumes inordinate amounts of resources and further divorces logic from public policy.