Playing the Indian Card

Friday, February 16, 2018

Guns and Mental Illness on the Rampage in Florida. Why Won't the Politicians Do Something?

The usual suspect.

Seventeen people have been killed in a random mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida. And, with annoying predictability, politicians are exploiting the catastrophe, as they always do, to blame Republicans for not bringing in some new law further restricting gun ownership. As if the solution to the problem were obvious, and the Republicans were just being evil. They’ve all been bought by the NRA.

The real problem is, there is no good reason to suppose that any possible law involving gun ownership would make such events less likely. As this painstaking statistical analysis shows, mass shootings are actually no more common in the US than in other developed countries. Folks in the US suppose they are, first, because the population of the US is much larger, so that there are inevitably more such events there, and second, because in America, mass shootings in other countries are given less media coverage.

These different countries have different gun control laws, and indeed different policies in many areas. This is strong evidence that no law is going to make any difference; and no law on gun ownership is going to make any difference.

Those in support of greater gun control point to Australia. Oz significantly restricted gun ownership after a mass shooting in 1996—about 20% fewer guns in private hands now—and, the gun control advocates point out, there have been no mass shootings in Australia since.

Still, this is not strong evidence. Mass shootings are rare; there having been none in Australia since 1996 might only be a small statistical anomaly. There have also still been mass killings in Australia, but not using guns. Does it really matter what weapon is used? There have even been attempted mass shootings, but they did not succeed well enough to meet the standard threshold of four people dead.

Overall, violence involving guns in Australia has indeed declined since the tougher gun laws were passed. However, gun violence has declined in the US over the same period, and even at a faster rate. And the US, during that time, has somewhat loosened its gun laws. In the first three years after the laws were passed, in which one should have seen the most dramatic effect, gun violence in Australia actually grew.

Nothing there that counts as scientific evidence. Nobody knows why the rate of violent crime has been declining, in the US or in Australia. My bet is improved technology leading to more efficient policing.

In sum, there is no reason to think that new and tighter gun control laws would do anything but win some politicians some votes. And, if there is any valid reason for the US Second Amendment, that too goes out the window.

Alongside the demand for stricter gun control laws, there has been a demand to attack the “real problem,” which is supposedly putting more money into mental health. President Trump just made that call, and it is almost as familiar a response.

It is no more sensible. Just as the various other developed countries have various other gun laws, yet do no better at preventing mass shootings, they have various mental health systems, yet do no better. If there is a problem here, then, it is not with the particular laws or resources surrounding mental health, but with our general understanding: with the mental health field. For the “science” of mental health will be more or less the same in all those countries.

Actually, many studies show that the “mentally ill” are in fact no more likely to commit violent crime than the general population. There seem to be no studies showing that they are more likely. Accordingly, putting more money into mental health, while it might be a fine idea for other reasons, would do nothing to reduce mass shootings.

Those advocating this “more mental health” approach will point to the fact that, although statistically the mentally ill are not killers, statistically, the killers are mentally ill. Again and again, when someone has gone somewhere with a gun to shoot everyone in sight, it turns out he was either taking antidepressants, or had just gone off antidepressants. This column makes that case. Other studies show that, while there is no statistical connection between mental illness and mass shootings, there is indeed a more specific statistical connection between [diagnosed mental illness with substance abuse] and [mass shootings].

So is putting more money into the treatment of mental illness indeed the answer? No—all the killers examined by Leo Knight in his column are actually united not by being mentally ill, but by being treated for mental illness. They were already in the system and receiving the standard treatment. More of the same will not make matters better. The problem is not that people are being overlooked, missed by the mental health system, not receiving needed treatment.

In fact, you could as easily argue from this data that the problem is with the treatment. Was the violence caused by the depression, or was it a side effect of the drugs? If the latter, the best way to prevent mass shootings might be to put less money into mental health, not more.

So, okay, is the problem with antidepressants, then? Not in itself; that cannot be so. When statistics show that the mentally ill are no more likely than the general population to commit acts of violence, how do they determine who is mentally ill? This almost has to mean anyone who has this medical diagnosis, and anyone who has this medical diagnosis will, as a matter of course, have been given these same antidepressants.

Another important question is going begging here. How can it be that, one the one hand, the mentally ill are no more statistically likely than the general population to be violent, yet violent people are statistically more likely than the general population to be mentally ill? The solution to that puzzle should give us the answer to the mass shootings.

I think the only possible explanation is misdiagnosis. There are two quite different phenomena, two quite different classes of people, being diagnosed and treated as depressive or mentally ill. One group is significantly less likely to be violent than the general population, and the other is significantly more likely to be violent than the general population. Since we use the same diagnosis for both, the stats for both get thrown together, it ends up a wash, and we miss important data.

My hypothesis: the symptoms we call depression, and more broadly the symptoms we call mental illness, can come from two sources. In the first—the non-violent group—they are essentially caused by PTSD. They are caused by trauma; by being abused; or by experiencing some intolerable life situation. In the second, the violent group, the same symptoms, of sadness and anxiety, are largely the voice of the individual’s conscience. They are caused by his or her own tendency to choose to do evil. They are anxious because of instinctive fears of cosmic justice; they have negative thoughts about themselves because they have, in fact, done negative things. A narcissist or psychopath will also feel they deserve whatever they want. Life and other people will not give them whatever they want. As a result, they will feel a general ennui, dissatisfaction, depression, if you like.

While the first group might want to kill themselves, this second group, with the same superficial symptoms of sorrow and anxiety, will instead want to kill everybody else.

These are opposite tendencies. In fact, the people with tendency two are probably the people who originally abused those suffering from tendency one.

It is a crowning injustice, if I am right, that the very victims of injustice are now being accused of and blamed for the acts they suffered. This is what happens when you conflate the two groups.

The problem with antidepressants, and psychiatric drugs generally, is that they only treat symptoms. They are like taking an aspirin for pain. The leg is still broken. For the first tendency, this may be worthwhile. But for the second group, the narcissists and psychopaths, the antidepressant will largely serve to numb conscience. Allowing them to dig their grave that much deeper. It is telling that this violent group is the same group that tends to abuse alcohol and drugs—these work the same way, numbing conscience, “inhibitions.”

To reduce mass shootings, and violence in general, we need to become aware of this vital distinction. We need more accurate diagnosis, and different “treatments” for some. But legislation has nothing to do with it, and can do nothing.

No comments: