Monday, November 24, 2014

Arming the Asylum

NEW YORK – The horror has become almost routine. This time, the massacre site was a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, where accused shooter James Holmes murdered and injured dozens of moviegoers. In 1999, the scene was nearby Columbine High School. By some estimates, there are more than 20 mass shootings per year in the United States. And always the same question: Why?

When the US is compared to the rest of the world, one reason becomes obvious: while America may not have more homicidally insane people than other countries do, homicidally insane people can get their hands on guns more easily in America than they can virtually anywhere else.

According to a 2007 survey, the United States is far ahead of the rest of the world in terms of gun ownership, with 90 guns for every 100 citizens. With 5% of the global population, America has between one-third and one-half of the world’s civilian-owned guns – around 270 million weapons. And many studies show that the US far surpasses other developed countries in deaths from gun violence – 30,000 per year, most of them suicides, but more than 12,000 of them homicides – while guns injure 200,000 Americans annually.

With these casualty figures, one would think that gun-control laws would be a much higher national priority in America than the far more loudly hyped fight against terrorism. After all, ever since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 left roughly 3,000 people dead, gun violence has killed almost 140,000 and injured more than two million.

But, when one looks more closely at why the US is so addicted to this unique kind of violence, the obvious is not so obvious. Why are gun-control laws so hard to pass?

One big reason is the gun lobby, which is one of the most heavily funded in America. Few legislators – Democrats and Republicans alike – care to take on the National Rifle Association. And many Americans believe that the US Constitution’s Second Amendment (“A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed”) permits individuals virtually unrestricted access to guns.

Indeed, many argue that the risk of gun-related deaths and injuries is the price that Americans must pay for the right to bear arms, which they regard as a powerful defense against tyranny. And, given how many ascendant tyrants have systematically disarmed the population they seek to control, it is difficult to dismiss this argument entirely.

But surely there can be a balance between Second Amendment rights and rational constraints on the ability of mentally unstable people to accumulate arsenals. For example, Colorado and many other states have sought to require more stringent background checks, aimed at preventing those with criminal records or obvious mental-health problems from arming themselves. But few such restrictions have been legislated – or have been left unchallenged by the gun lobby when they are.

Finally, opposition to reasonable gun-control laws in America is cultural, which is reflected in the many news reports following mass shootings that, refusing to admit that America could be wrong, downplay the striking contrast between US gun laws and those elsewhere. So, for example, journalists stress the rather pathetic high note of a grim reality: at least there are not more massacres and murders, and the numbers are stable.

Such coverage also tends to individualize and psychologize social pathologies – another deep-seated American trait, and one reinforced by the lone-cowboy frontier ethos that is central to US mythology (and to gun mythology). As a result, the media tend to focus on the need for better parenting and mental-health treatment. But little US coverage following a gun massacre assesses the impact of America’s health-care system, which is unaffordable to many, especially for those with mental-health problems.

That is why, in many US cities, it is common to see people with serious mental illnesses speaking to themselves and otherwise acting out, sometimes violently, on the street. This is a far less common sight in countries with functioning mental-health systems.

Many mental illnesses, such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, can cause auditory hallucinations that “command” the patient to commit acts of violence. Medication manages such psychotic symptoms. But proper diagnosis and treatment requires money, and funding is being cut.

Indeed, according to a report in February, US states have had to cut mental-health services by almost 10% in three years, threatening to “swamp emergency rooms and raise health-care costs for all patients.” But, if patients cannot get low-cost outpatient psychiatric care for chronic illnesses such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder – which require continual management to adjust medication – there will also be more lethal violence, especially if guns are readily available.

Inpatient care, too, has been slashed. In recent decades, mental institutions and halfway houses have been closed in a wholesale way, often in the name of reforming care. But nothing has replaced these facilities, leaving many patients homeless and their severe psychotic symptoms untreated.

Despite the well-documented shortcomings of America’s mental-health services, few US policymakers are prepared to address the issue. Until they do, the easy availability of guns all but ensures that massacres like the one in Aurora remain a bitter American refrain.

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    1. CommentedGabriel Nagy

      The fanatic attacks of September 11 made the Government of George W. Bush Jr. to launch his infamous ‘War on Terror’. While getting rid of the Saddam Hussein the cost in terms civilian deaths totaled more than 116,657 casualties. Evil hit from outside and America was ready to stomach the cost in order to defend their country.

      Just in the last seven years there has been 9 shooting including: ten dead in school shooting (2005); four girls killed in an attack on an Amish school (2006); 33 students massacred in Virginia Tech (2007); 10 die in shooting spree in Alabama, gunman kills 13 in siege in Binghamton, NY and in a deadly shooting at a US base 11 people are killed and 31 injured (2009); nine die in US work place shooting (2010); 8 dead in California shooting and 2 die in Virginia Tech shooting (2011); and this year (2012) seven die in college shooting and only two days ago James Holmes, a 24 year old student, killed 12 and left 58 wounded in a killing rampage in a movie theater in Colorado.

      How can a student assemble such a deadly arsenal from legal supplier without raising any suspicion? Why didn’t anyone alert the authorities? Doesn’t this make the suppliers accomplices of a serious crime? When are politicians going to take seriously this killing and declare war on guns? Powerful weapons are being used against innocent and defenseless fellow Americans. Holmes’ motives are irrelevant and make no difference now. What really matters is to put the necessary guns control to limit and to stop any future gunman to acquire any weapons that hurt and kill Americans.

    2. CommentedBill Woollam

      Gun confiscation legislation, Staged shootings, Banking fraud, Economic collapse, and Martial law
      My perspective doesn't fit pro-war, pro-banking fraud news feed.

    3. CommentedTom Bolt

      Michigan has eliminated all their mental health facilities and depend upon private contractors to fulfill what the state once handled. Thhe problem here is that good care has gone out the window for the dollar bill.
      I think mental facilities should operate for the good of those suffering from illnesses, yet at the same time I do not believe they should be operating at the expense of the people.

    4. CommentedTom Bolt

      I have no truck with this argument. There is a place in Georgia where they require every head of house hold to possess and carry a firearm. It has the lowes crime rate of any city in the U.S. There are stipulations. persons who object to firearms, religious reasons, emotionally disturbed and convicted felons cannot possess a firearm. Yes, we need some laws to guide us, but not to make us subjects to elected officials. This is the central issue that needs to be addressed and random acts of hoplophobic reactions.

    5. CommentedTom Bolt

      NRA and other firearm organiations are only doing what needs to be done or this Nation will beome a tyranny and all Americans will become slaves or surfs. There is a precise history of what happens when a nation evolves to the confiscation of firearms--it leads to a tyranny and the people loose all freedoms and liberty. Constructing a narrative to discombobulate the population is sour journalism.

    6. CommentedTom Bolt

      These are generalized statements and point to nothing real. Its like Alice in wonderland. In Michigan, according to the State Police records, suicide by firearm has reduced since the enactment of the "Shall issue rule" even accidential shootings have lowered. This is a result from persons learning the function and the safety use of a firearm. Empty numbers perform the function to scare the crap out of the ignorant. If closer research is performed it will be revealed that most of the deaths were created by criminals and gang members.

    7. CommentedGary Marshall

      I would think it probable that there are many more people capable of presenting a superior argument in a local meat shop. Why does Project Syndicate then persist in giving us this rank intellectual garbage with the options available?


    8. CommentedGary Marshall

      That's right, Naomi. No citizens with legal firearms permits were allowed into the theater with their weapons. Had they been, such a tragedy would probably never have been such a tragedy.

      Thanks again for showing us how utterly incompetent you are in reasoning through the plainest of circumstances and the simplest of arguments to the most obvious of conclusions.

      If one wishes to protect himself from the most manically lethal of people in the most vulnerable of places, he will not unless he has some equivalent means of self-defence at hand.

      If the US is such a dangerous place in which all sorts of nutjobs are running about shooting innocent people, then the answer is not to deprive potential victims of the means and right to defend themselves.

      Your headline exactly describes your argument, which is let the crazed few have their weapons. Only a Naomi Wolf could and would advocate for that insipid cause.

      Maybe there is reason in your madness. Maybe you're just improving your chances when you enter the proverbial theater and unleash your murderous rage.


    9. Commentedtom hoser

      Check out John Lott's book "More guns, less crime". It makes the somewhat counter intuitive point by siting studies in municipalities and countries where more guns were introduced and the crime rate fell dramatically This does not include the "wild card" mental illness which most countries with decent health care address effectively. We have structured our society to benefit a few at the expense of the many, just the opposite of most everywhere else.

    10. CommentedPatrick Holman

      3,000 people die everyday from heart disease, yet no one says a word. If you take away guns, then you leave a vacuum for tyranny. In your book, End of America, you forgot one step in Nazi Germany that took place; Nazi's confiscated my Jewish Grandfathers guns and the rest of the countries. Luckily, he left in in time. Gun control and gun confiscation is anti-Semitic. The medication that Holmes was taking is the real problem. Pharmaceutical companies pushing their untested drugs on America. The Government closed the state mental institutions and let them all out... we can't afford it. However, if I was at the theater, no one would have been shot except the lunatic.

    11. CommentedChris Elliott

      Succinct presentation as usual. Naomi as ultimately hit the real problem with a bullseye. But firstly Jason in Friday the 13th Films and real life 'Jason's often don't use guns. In countries were guns aren't readily available they don't. In England the most common weapon is an hammer, murder rate around 800 a year, mostly domestic and has been for a couple of centuries. Murders were down last year in the UK yet there are more illegal guns on the street due to hopeless border controls on that little green island. Those who have been on killing sprees gave no mental health indications.

      However, new words or phrases are going to become increasingly used in our future. One is ‘Fear Consciousness’. Present governments rule by creating fear. The very opposite to thier ultimate excuse for lying to us, 'protecting us from our fears'. Americans are not going to be parted from thier weapons while ever that fear consciousness is so high and there is no alternative.

      Noteworthy is that new weapons are already in production that are just as deadly and don't fire projectiles. They will also be used unmanned as perimeter defences, in due course as civilian property security. To make it simple, they have three settings, stun, unconscious and terminally liquidate soft tissue organs.

      Why do we need these weapons old and new? Because of inequity and injustice as well as the masses having no power. So weapons we turn on each other will be a part of our culture for a while yet.

      Naomi is perfectly on track with regard to addressing mental health, although it is my opinion that Holmes Junior was black ops weaponised to damage his Father and his forthcoming evidence.

      There is a whole raft of so called mental conditions that we know nothing about really and we as a community act like early doctors, if its broke chop it off! With mental health we cut it off by pigeon-holing it and boxing it off because we simply have no answers. We need to learn that there is nothing wrong with many, particularly the ones born after 1990 just that they are wired differently, a new species if you like. They are not nurtured these new humans they are caged and driven crazy like many wild animals which have been caged for various reasons. Societys produce them because they don't konw how to deal with them.

      I expect to be labelled myself for this comment or at best accused of possessing arcade knowledge, which is true but its not secret it is readily available for those with open minds, who seek it wishing to evolve thier knowledge and understanding. To those who don't it will be dismissed as craziness. Just as Nikola Tesla was 100 years ago. If JP Morgan and Edison had not destroyed him, we would have be so much better off now as humanity. We still need to over-come that same greed of the few to evolve.

      In the next few decades everyone will become fully aware. In the meantime, will anyone listen to Naomi's eloquent cry of more resources to support mentally alternative functioning people, so the craziness can be prevented from happening? If the USA wants a serious heads up they should look at how the Belgian's treat thier people who are different. Finally, who's to say that those deemed mentally ill by the authorities, but who never take a life, are the only ones who have the ability to see the truth and arm themselves in self-defence against a lie-infested government who create that fear.

    12. CommentedPhillip Points

      That is BS Naomi. You are lumping all guns in the same bucket. How much of these numbers were attributed to criminal activity?

      One thing should be understood and that is criminals will get their hands on guns no matter if there are heavy gun laws or not. Ban weapons or heavily restrict them and crime will skyrocket as it did in Australia when they banned guns.

    13. CommentedProcyon Mukherjee

      Some of news items associated with the Colorado incident took me by surprise like what had been reported on 23rd July in Seattle Times, which talked about increase in arms sales immediately after the incident or the Forbe's report on 23rd July which talked of huge rise in market capitalization of gun companies like Ruger or Smith and Wesson in the last two years. In fact in both these companies immediately after the incident the stock prices shot up.

      This leaves a sobering thought that societal acceptance of a tragedy and its reversal in form of an euphoria amongst the investors, who trade from such news and information, are signs of animal instincts that have gone awry in the human societies of current times.

      Procyon Mukherjee

    14. CommentedYoshimichi Moriyama

      There was a period in Japanese history when rising feudal lords and barons, trying to distinguish themselve militarily, politically and socially from other classes of people which they had hitherto belonged to and started to rise from, forbade the masses to possess arms (swords in Japan). It was undemocratic.

      If the Japanese or Americans were allowed to have guns or bazookas respetively, I do not know if this would make Japanese or American democracy more democratic.

      An American young man was in Japan as an English language instructor. His parents came to visit him. On an evening the son was in the kitchen, preparing food. The parents were watching Japanese TV news. They did not know a word of Japanese but from the tone of a newcaster they perceived something had happened, so they asked their son what had happened. The son replied from the kitchen, "Someone fired shots." The parents waited for the son to go on but he did not explain any further. So the parents, impatient, asked, "How many were killed?" "Nobody was killed" was the reply. The parents were flabbergasted. Nobody killed, would that make news in Japan? Yes, that makes nation-wide news in Japan.

    15. CommentedMichael Butryn

      It is alarming that you have included in your assessment of the failure of our health system, one of the fundamental reasons why it fails; stigmatism. The majority of those afflicted with mental illnesses do not walk around speaking to themselves and acting out. As a professional and respected speaker, you should have thought about that generalization a little more carefully. It can actually be taken as downright offensive. I would cite sources supporting my position but Many Bergman has already done so in her comment.

    16. CommentedMandy Bergman

      I agree wholehearted with Ms. Wolf that mental health funding both in the USA and Canada ( I am Canadian) is in need of a serious influx of cash. Prevention is undeniably cheaper than treatment and ethically sounder. However, Ms. Wolf is guilty of the stereotyping and stigmatizing of ALL mentally ill individuals based on the behavior of the few. This is especially troubling as people with mental health issues already suffer from higher levels of stigma than other ill patients, such as those with cancer or diabetes.

      In fact, according to statistics and research taken from the University of Washington the following is true about violence and mental health:

      "Although studies suggest a link between mental illnesses and violence, the contribution of people with mental illnesses to overall rates of violence is small, and further, the magnitude of the relationship is greatly exaggerated in the minds of the general population (Institute of Medicine, 2006)."

      "…the vast majority of people who are violent do not suffer from mental illnesses (American Psychiatric Association, 1994)."

      "The absolute risk of violence among the mentally ill as a group is very small. . . only a small proportion of the violence in our society can be attributed to persons who are mentally ill (Mulvey, 1994)."

      "People with psychiatric disabilities are far more likely to be victims than perpetrators of violent crime (Appleby, et al., 2001).

      People with severe mental illnesses, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder or psychosis, are 2 ½ times more likely to be attacked, raped or mugged than the general population (Hiday, et al.,1999)."

    17. CommentedE Michael Kahn

      As a psychiatrist, I appreciate Ms. Wolf's impassioned plea for mental health resources. It seems important, still, to make the distinction between the rare, spectacular tragedies perpetrated by individuals in the throes of psychosis, and the daily, hidden tragedies of suicide and domestic violence. Easy access to firearms shapes the ways that this drama is played out, daily. Public health measures, such as depression screening and substance abuse education, likely have a role in mitigating gun violence. [See for an informative analysis.]

    18. CommentedThomas Haynie

      Brilliant! Perfectly articulated what I've been thinking for some time. I'm becoming a fan of your work.

      The question becomes to what level are Americans willing to fund (through taxes) the mental health system in order to reduce these sorts of killing? Or increase restrictions and enforcement on guns?

      Of course there is the third solution touted by the Rt. We should ALL be carying concealed weapons. But then I'd bet my rt leg accidental shootings, shootings from mementary rage, and shootings from the inept momentary hero or vigilante will increase.