Screening potential gun owners for mental problems will do little to stop gun violence. Mentally ill people rarely kill. Rather, most killings are done by angry people. This is encouraged by our culture, which glorifies redemption through violence. In addition, our society is becoming so polarized that anger and rage are commonplace and seen as solutions to problems.
Debates about politics too often end with the two sides being deeply hostile or openly insulting each other. Hollywood movies lionize the outsider who uses extra-judicial violence to correct wrongs. When yet another mass shooting happens, scapegoats are looked for. The problem is seen as being too much gun control or too little gun control or the mentally ill or brown people or commie liberals or fascist conservatives. However, if angry people do most of the killing and we have a culture where raging anger is viewed as permissible and okay, then perhaps the real problem is, deep within, our culture is sick and needs healing. “I shouted out who killed the Kennedy’s / When after all, it was you and me,” sang the Rolling Stones in ‘Sympathy For The Devil”. Maybe so.
Violence is not a product of mental illness. Nor is violence generally the action of ordinary, stable individuals who suddenly “break” and commit crimes of passion. Violent crimes are committed by violent people, those who do not have the skills to manage their anger. Most homicides are committed by people with a history of violence. Murderers are rarely ordinary, law-abiding citizens, and they are also rarely mentally ill. Violence is a product of compromised anger management skills.
Paolo del Vecchio of the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration has said, “Violence by those with mental illness is so small that even if you could somehow cure it all, 95 percent of violent crime would still exist.”
Anger management skills are simple techniques that can and should be taught to children and adolescents. We should not wait to teach these skills until verbally or physically violent behavior has become habitual and, often, life-threatening.
Uncontrolled anger has become our No. 1 mental health issue. Though we have the understanding and the skills to treat the anger epidemic in this country, as a culture, we have been unwilling to accept the violence problem as one that belongs to each and every one of us. We have sought scapegoats in minority cultures, racial groups, and now the mentally ill. When we are ready to accept that the demon is within us all, we can begin to treat the cycle of anger and suffering.
SNL skit. Things go better with guns?