Guns, the media, and mental illness

Thursday, December 20, 2012
My last post was on my family's personal experience with a mass shooting (my grandmother and aunt were shot). I usually avoid any political conversations on my blog. But I have an opinion, one born of my experience with an immediate family having a mental illness, a mass shooting, and a bunch of gun-loving family members.

You are welcome to disagree with my opinions, but if you don't do so in a respectful manner, I will delete your comment and block you.

I think we can all agree that mass murders are on the rise in our country. So much so that we can now expect one ever six months. So why is mass murder on the rise? You can't blame it on guns--they've been around far longer than mass murder. You can't even blame it on mental illness. It's been around even longer than guns. And the treatment and social understanding for the mentally ill is better than when I grew up. 

The answer is fairly simple: The media's attention to the murderers, doing complete life stories and smearing their names in every household in America. Don't want to die alone and forgotten? Go shot up a public plac--instant celebrity status. The more people who die, the better the coverage will be. Want to really get the media's attention: go kill a bunch of little kids. 

It's not the deciding factor in EVERY mass shooting. But I believe it is one of the factors in many of them. 

And I'm going to make a prediction: mass murders will continue to increase unless and until we do three things:

1. The media must take responsibility and stop spinning stories and start simply reporting the facts. If these murderer's names were never even mentioned, if they were forgotten and pushed aside, they would die alone and forgotten. And then there would be no point in taking anyone down with you. 

2. Mental health care needs to be accessible to everyone. We can't wait until someone does something violent before we intervene. Read these two inspiring posts by Dan Wells and Robison Wells

3. We need tougher gun laws. The waiting period needs to be longer, certain types and caliber need to be restricted, and the punishments for people who illegally sell/provide guns needs to be stiffer. This is where people get all riled up. "We might as well restrict knives and baseball bats too!" Not the same thing. The guy in China who knifed up an elementary school didn't kill a single person. Me and my pepper spray have a chance against a guy with a knife. I can't do anything against someone with an assault rifle. 


  1. There is certainly an aspect of attention seeking in these things, but the events would have to go completely unreported to have any effect, and it would still take a long time before people realized they weren't going to get the wanted attention from the event.

  1. Michele said...:

    Well said - I completely agree with your points of view. Many insurance plans don't cover mental health care. And there are so many incidents has to be "spectacular" to get national coverage. I think there should be laws for media control.

  1. Ing said...:

    I disagree completely -- and respectfully -- with the idea that tougher gun laws are part of the answer.

    Someone motivated/insane enough to go on a mass shooting spree is going to be motivated enough to find a gun, be it an "assault weapon" or something less scary but still deadly. Reality is, it's going to be impossible to take enough guns out of circulation to put a serious dent in a criminal or madman's ability to find one.

    Guns are used for self-defense about 1.5 million times each year (most of the time with no one getting killed, often with no shots fired). Defensive gun uses outnumber criminal uses nearly 2 to 1. For every madman killing children with an AR-15, there are millions of peaceful people defending themselves in dire need (many of them using AR-15's). I think we need laws that recognize that instead of restricting 300 million people based on the actions of a handful of madmen.

    But there is one way I'd agree to more restrictive gun laws -- if they came with recognition that good guys carry guns, too. I'd put up with reducing my standard-capacity pistol from 17 rounds to 10 or even give up the idea of buying myself one of those awesome modern rifles if it meant that everyone, everywhere, could keep guns at home and carry them anywhere. Which does mean schools; teachers everywhere are willing to give their lives to protect their students, so maybe we should trust them to actively defend children, too.

    What really gets me is that everyone in that school was completely defenseless -- my children's school is no different. If a lunatic charges in with the idea of shooting people, I hope somebody there can do something about it before 26 people die.

  1. LC Piper said...:

    Violence is and always will be a problem. I agree that legislating weapons is pointless, rather to help people first. as long as we are people we will have this problem. But we are getting better. There's just more of us and we're more aware (media) so it seems to be more incidences. Don't get discouraged. start the change in you.

  1. Andrew: I think it's inherently dangerous to make murders into celebrities, which is exactly what American's do. Media could still report the event, but do we have to do an hours worth of specials on the murderer? Do we have to delve into every aspect of his life?

    Michele: I don't know how the government could control it. The answer lies with people refusing to watch it. Media exists to make money. It skues the way they tell their "stories." If we don't watch it, they'll stop creating it. Also, to change the public opinion, so giving the murder attention is taboo.

    Ing: All very good points, and well voiced as well. Most of the murderers in these situations obtained their guns through legal channels. I disagree that they would even know where to go to illegally buy a gun. At the very least, it would take them more time--time in which someone could intervene or the impulse could pass.

    I don't really like the idea of teachers packing guns either. That just makes me envision all these accidental shootings and scaring kids.

    LC: Thanks for your comments. I disagree that the incidences aren't increasing though. The rise has been well documented.

  1. Appreciate your post, Amber.

    It's come to a point that I can't hardly watch the news anymore. They don't report facts. They push us to think in a certain way, they're way, depending on the narrative they're selling. How come the news hardly covered the school invasion of that one guy who killed people with a bow and a knife a few weeks ago? Why no major stories about the dozens of people killed in "no gun zones," WITH guns, that happen each month? Because it doesn't help the agenda that these outlets want to push.

    The way they highlight these incidents, or prolong them, will only give ideas and encourage other would-be perpetrators.

    All we can do is be responsible as best as we can and watch for early warning signs, and not be afraid to take action if we see them.

  1. I read Robison Well's post and loved it. I agree that access to mental health services is hugely important, and it's tragic, how many people who need it don't get it. Our gun safe has two guns in it that were moved from a relative's house when their owner decided they should be kept away from a household member with a tendency for self-harm.

    I don;t know how to address the media thing. I agree it's irresponsible for the media to keep paying attention to killers, and it's horrifying how much of the information offered that first day was just flat-out wrong. But I'd suggest the real problem goes deeper. Human beings can be voyeurs. They can be too fascinated with evil. I am disappointed with the violence we see in fictional programming, and so much of it is graphic. Sometimes you just have to turn it off and move on--and if more people did, the media might behave a bit more responsibly.

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