Blaming mental illness for shooting massacres is offensive and misleading
Blaming mental illness for gun violence is not okay, and I believe President Donald Trump is only causing more harm when he encourages the use of guns to supposedly prevent gun violence.
On Nov. 5, a gunman opened fire at a Baptist church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, reported The New York Times. The shooter was later found dead in his car and identified by authorities as Devin Patrick Kelley. He killed 26 people.
Trump, who was in Japan at the time, blamed the shooting on mental illness. He called the tragedy “a mental health problem at the highest level” and described the shooter as a “very deranged individual,” according to The New York Times. I believe Trump is using mental illness as a scapegoat for acts of violence. He also specified that “this isn’t a guns situation,” according to the same source. This further proves his incompetence as president.
In my opinion, Trump is unable to tackle this nationwide issue in an objective fashion. He is turning away from the real issue destroying the lives of many Americans each year. According to the not-for-profit corporation Gun Violence Archive, approximately 13,286 people were killed in the United States by firearms in 2015.
Not only is blaming gun violence on mental illness largely false, it is also offensive and misleading. Doing so increases the stigma around mental illness and perpetuates the incorrect assumption that mentally ill people are violent. In fact, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the majority of people with mental illness are no more likely to be violent than anyone else. Only three to five per cent of violent acts in the United States can be attributed to individuals with serious mental illness, according to the same source.
Not only does Trump fail to assign fault where it is due, I believe he is promoting gun violence. Two days after the Texas shooting, the president praised another man in the church who shot Kelley. “If he didn’t have a gun,” Trump claimed, “instead of having 26 dead, you would have had hundreds more dead. That’s how I feel about it,” reported NBC News. With his pro-gun stance, Trump is fostering the view that gun ownership helps prevent massacres, and gun misuse is due to mental illness.
While I do believe mental illness and the availability of psychological services in the United States needs to be addressed, I think it is clear that gun control is what will prevent so many mass shootings from happening. The best way to prevent these tragedies is to ban the weapons that are used to hurt so many rather than promote equally violent retaliation. In the aftermath of the 2006 Dawson shooting here in Montreal, the college built a garden to promote a peaceful, safe space and began offering a non-violent communication course for students to take as an elective. I strongly believe this is the type of attitude the American president needs to have if there is any hope of lessening the number of tragedies his country regularly faces.
Following Trump’s response to the Texas shooting, the hashtag #LivingWithMentalIllnessIs began trending on Twitter. This is a positive step towards something bigger. This hashtag gives people who live with mental illness a platform where they can share their stories and disprove Trump’s views of why gun violence takes place. I also hope this hashtag promotes peaceful communication between people and ends the stigmatization of mental illness as a dangerous or violent disorder.
Graphic by Zeze Le Lin