Mental Illness?

A blogger friend alludes to yesterday’s incident at Virginia Tech and suggests the cause was mental illness. Having heard very little about the shooter except descriptions of his actions, I haven’t heard a case being made that he was mentally ill. I’m hearing he was thorough and ruthless, brutal and prepared. One report says he obliterated the serial numbers on the weapons, which suggests preparation. He chained the doors of the classroom building closed, also suggesting preparation.

Do we call it mental illness anytime we don’t like what other people do, when we find an act offensive or inexplicable?

If so, that’s the only explanation for our President’s remarks yesterday, leaping immediately from sympathy for the victims and their families to support of the right to bear arms.*

We live in a militarized culture, in a country where leaders think nothing of sending people away to kill and to die, to maim and be maimed, even when the battle being fought is offensive and inexplicable to so many. Our culture is ill, spiritually and mentally, when we sit back and say there is nothing we can do.

This morning I watched an interview with a young man who helped bar the door against the shooter. When asked how it felt to be called a hero, he could no longer speak, but stood blinking back tears.

This enemy was not a foreign terrorist, according to the Washington Post. He was a boy from Northern Virginia. There will be more to his story, of course. Perhaps we will learn of mental illness. Perhaps we will learn of personal difficulties. But if it weren’t so easy to get those guns, we wouldn’t be talking about it at all.

*Edited to add: I understand that the President made no public remarks about the 2nd Amendment, and I apologize for my error. The statement came from his spokeswoman, Dana Perino, earlier in the day.
I stand by my feelings regarding the availability of guns.
And, I hope obviously, this was written prior to the firm identification of the young man who committed the crimes.

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17 thoughts on “Mental Illness?

  1. Lisa

    Amen. My first thought was the same: how long will it take before we hear that “the right to bear arms” should not be challenged? The idea that the right to own a handgun (let’s start with the obvious) is more important than controlling the killing in our society is morally unsupportable.

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  2. sherry

    I found out about this when I walked into the Doctor’s lounge to eat lunch and Fox news was on.
    It took 3 minutes for the ranting to start about not challenging the “right to bear arms”.
    This from people who have dedicated their lives to saving the lives of other humans.
    Hurumph.

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  3. I would think even a person who cares a lot about preserving the 2nd Amendment could find the sensitivity to leave it out of a public statement only hours after the killings. Didn’t his mother ever tell him, “This is neither the time nor the place?” Apparently not.

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  4. discerning a call

    Thank you. Last week, here in the confines of car industry country, a fired employee, with a history of mental illness, managed to buy a shotgun after being denied a license to purchase a concealed weapon due to his aforementioned history. He then went into his work place where he killed the receptionist and critically shot two other people.
    Lord, hear our prayer…we know you are by our sides and walk with us during our time of sorrow and struggle to understand all of these violent outbursts. Guide us, love us, and comfort us. Amen.

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  5. He is or was mentally ill because in my book sane people act with love and compassion and don’t murder.
    Jesus said murderous thoughts were as bad as murder – but I think that that’s really the difference between humans and nonhumans too – I often wanted to flush my kids down the loo (sometimes still do) but I don’t do it – why because I treat them humanely – because I am sane and God lives in me.
    does any of this make sense??? Or am I really going insane too. KNow I’m going cross eyed too many hours in class … and now taking a blogging break as relief from proof reading I must be CRAZY

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  6. Amen Songbird.
    It is so much easier for people to continue to stigmatize mental illness and make it about those “crazy people” who go on a shooting rampage than it is to face the fact that guns are far too easy to attain in the US.
    Thank you for this honest and thoughtful post.

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  7. Glad to read this…With our different gun laws here, the “WHY?” question is one that sounds very loud for me.Yes, we have gun crime here, – far more than anyone would ever see as acceptable – but the fact that it’s so much harder for anyone to own a weapon surely makes random shootings a little harder.
    But that’s probably a question for another day…Meanwhile, all I can do is keep on praying for all those grieving, hurting people. Lord have mercy

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  8. I can’t believe I am going to defend our president (was that a pig that just flew by my window?), but the statement I read from the president made no mention of the second amendment. His press secretary brought it up only when asked directly by a reporter.
    It looks like you wrote this in the morning, but I heard the case made on the radio just now, quite convincingly, that the individual was deeply, deeply depressed. The English department had attempted to intervene repeatedly.
    Perhaps we need a more precise term. Someone who does this is, for lack of a better expression, *not right*, whether they have a DSM IV diagnosis or not.
    I’m sad to say that I’m becoming more and more drawn to demon language the older I get.

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  9. The problem with the immediate question about mental illness is with the corresponding assumption of cause and effect. I’ve written in the past about my feelings about the automatic assumption, when something like this happens, that the person is mentally ill. If there is mental illness, it may/may not be a contributing factor. What frustrates me is the determination to link these things to it and the resultant reinforcement of stigma for anyone with mental illness. The reality is people who are mentally ill often never commit anything remotely violent; and people who aren’t do. And accepting the cause and effect assumption only serves to lessen our responsibility as a society for the easy acceptance of violence as a solution to the problems people are facing.
    Thank you for raising the question, Songbird.

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  10. I’m reluctant to begin defending myself, but I did write this before there was positive identification of the shooter or his mental condition. My concern is that we brush off gun violence by focusing solely on the mental status of the person who perpetrated the violence.
    rm, I heard a second hand report about the President’s remarks. I will be more careful in the future.
    I continue to feel strongly that there is something wrong with our culture when we are surprised that anger bursts out in violence by some people when we send other people to commit violent acts against the equally innocent natives of other countries. Who is really mentally ill? And whose acts are truly evil?

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