There’s enough insanity to go around – and then some

Gun control activists are not just concerned about the criminally insane having guns. (Such diagnoses are too often only made after a shoot-’em-up anyway!) Otherwise sane people can act violently, too, and guns just make things that much worse.

When I hear criminals dismissed by news-jockies as “crazy”, “unbalanced”, “off”, I sometimes take on those stigmatizing labels – and I may be a lot of things but I am not paranoid.

Even some of my best friends…can be described as having, at least, a nodding acquaintance with mental illness.

While, as far as I know, a police check would not flag me as mentally ill, I probably owe that more to the fact that my only direct personal contact with police has been cordial and no investigation into my mental state, from their point-of-view, has been necessary (again, so far as I know).

In this blog, I have made no attempts to hide my interest in, and my personal diagnosis of, mental illness – beginning with major depression shortly after being diagnosed HIV-positive in 1989, then post-traumatic stress disorder, which was the result of a cab running me down in 2003, and – in more recent years – bipolar II, just one sobering assessment of which is here.

Bipolar II, which may have gone undiagnosed for years, manifested itself in me as a prolonged absence of depression.  I can look back at events in my life which coincided with a similar feeling.  First an absence of depression, then a sense of elation and euphoria in measures disproportionate to anything happening.

A search of this blog proves that I have no secrets.

The stigma of mental illness, characterized by an inability to talk about it intelligently, a tendency to mischaracterize and stereotype it and, therefore, a reluctance on the part of clients to speak about it, is pushing some of my buttons this weekend in the wake of Saturday’s terrible shooting spree in Tucson.

From this Canadian’s perspective, anyone with a grudge and a gun is dangerous. Yet it seems so hard for Second Amendment-obsessed Americans to see past someone’s mental illness and look critically at his ability to own a 9-mm Glock gun (and gain access to two 31-round clips). Are they afraid that mental health means testing might weed them out?

Six people were killed, including U.S. District Judge John Roll and a nine-year old girl the media likes to point out was born on September 11, 2001. Fourteen others were wounded.

Getting the most publicity, however, was the gunman’s clear target – Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz. – who was holding a constituency event at the time outside a local supermarket. While there will no doubt be wide coverage of the funerals of the dead in forthcoming days it is the targeting of Giffords by the alleged gunman, Jared Lee Loughner, which dominates the news as her prognosis of recovery from a “through-and-through” bullet wound to the brain is described as precarious.

Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik says Loughner has a troubled past with the law and there is reason to believe he may have a mental issue. (There was news in there somewhere.)

As seen in previous examples of high-profile medical issues in the news, there has been no shortage of armchair analysis, reminiscent of other prominent health cases.

“Physician, heal thyself.”

Variously described as “mentally disturbed” and “a madman”, Loughner has had the presence of mind to invoke his Fifth Amendment rights (silence). His internet presence is being examined with the cyber equivalent of a fine-tooth comb. It is the questions about his mental health which allow many Americans to rationalize their citizen army mindset. The sanity of the most liberal gun laws in the world, for which Giffords herself has strongly advocated, is not up for much discussion.

Loughner dropped out of high school in 2006, after his junior year. In 2008, he tried to enlist in the U.S. Army but was rejected.

Media shorthand: he was a nut-job who became a loner. The mentally ill are dangerous. Guns are fine. Don’t blame the over-the-top rhetoric of Sarah Palin or other whingers.

As I tweeted after turning off CNN at noon, “Final seg of Reliable Sources with Howard Kurtz, Rachel Sklar & Steve Malzberg: is there any sand left in that sand-box???”

Here’s some great further reading from

Gail Collins

Jeffrey Goldberg in The Atlantic

at Feministe

Slate’s Vaughan Bell
with “Crazy Talk”.