I have repeatedly heard two arguments in the national gun control discussion we are having. One is that if we could only keep guns out of the hands of the mentally ill then there would be fewer killings. The second is if only our culture was less violent then we would have fewer killings. I believe that both arguments are fallacious.
Mental illness is a serious problem. There is no question in my mind that the perpetrator of the elementary school killings was mentally ill. What is less clear in my mind is whether or not he had been diagnosed with a mental illness. I also believe that mere diagnosis that a person has mental health problems is insufficient to warrant them being treated differently than everyone else. The real issue is not mental illness but is the judgment that they are likely to do harm to themselves or to others. When a person who has been so judged then that person should of course be treated and prevented from doing harm. When the treatment is successful then there is no need to treat the person any differently than everyone else.
The more important question than restricting people with mental illness from having possession of guns is the question of how to provide diagnosis and treatment for all the people who have a mental illness. Treating people who have a mental illness is somehow different than treating those with a physiological illness. This is bad medicine and encourages people with mental problems not to seek diagnosis and treatment. I still remember the adverse publicity Sen. Eagleton received for seeking treatment for depression. I wonder how many people who should have sought treatment failed to do so because so many viewed Sen. Eagleton so poorly for seeking treatment. We need to encourage people to get help for their problems and not discourage them. Compiling lists of people with mental health problems to prevent them from having the same rights as everyone else will discourage the very people who need help from getting that help. Hence, the fallacy in compiling a list of people with mental illness to prevent them from buying guns.
The next argument people raise is if only we had a more peaceful culture then there would be less violence. The argument continues that violence in our games, our movies, our television shows, our books, our plays, our musicals, and on and on is responsible for the shootings that we have. We can start by getting rid of many stories in the Christian Bible. The story of Cain and Abel would be a good place to start. And then there is the whole torture thing with nailing Jesus Christ to the cross. And then of course we might then get rid of movies such as “the lion King.” I cannot think of a time when violence was not a part of Western culture. Yes, technology has changed. Yes, the images on television and computers are sharper and clearer than ever before. I do not believe that the images in the brain are any different today than they were 100 years ago. Yes, playing war games on the computer is worse than playing war games in your backyard. The reason though is because there is less exercise involved not that the game is any less violent. Yes, we have a culture of violence problem; but, that problem does not come from our games, music, stories, and so on.
The culture problem we have comes from how we actually treat each other. Some people are viewed as lesser and other people are viewed as greater. The people who are viewed as lesser strike out against themselves as well as those who are viewed as greater. The people who are greater strike out against those who are lesser to keep the people who are lesser in their place. A classic case of this is men who commit violence against women. The refusal by Congress to pass the violent against women act may be seen as the greater, “white Republican male,” keeping the lesser, women, in their place. We must change our culture so that all are treated with respect and generosity of spirit. This is not an easy task. The ultra wealthy easily find treating those who are not as wealthy with less respect. This was a mistake that Gov. Romney made in his run for the presidency.
Changing the culture so that everyone respects each other involves more than just teaching respect. One must reduce the economic inequality between people. Some call this redistribution of wealth which it is. Lower paying jobs should have their pay increased. Jobs at the extreme end of high pay should have their pay greatly reduced. We should further implement a national tax on property, otherwise known as wealth. This needs to be combined with providing a better education for everyone. Only when people’s physiological needs, safety needs, and community needs are met can our culture change so that all are respected and violence is reduced. I doubt that violence can ever be eliminated. I do believe that violence can be reduced so that less than 10 people will be killed by intentional violent acts a year in the United States. This is effectively eliminating the violence that we have today. The fallacy of the cultural issue is that we are looking to the wrong place. The problem lies not in the objects as it does in ourselves.
Contrary to my opening paragraph there are mental health problems and culture problems we need to address. However, the solutions offered by people do not address those problems. Instead, the solutions aggravate the problems. Instead of keeping lists of people with mental health problems we need to offer better diagnosis, better treatment, and to stop denigrating people with mental health problems. To change our culture we should not focus on games, movies, stories, … Instead we should focus on reducing economic inequality, education, and respecting each other.