Two years ago I wrote a blog about how the gun lobby in America won the debate on gun control long ago. The reason, I argued, was that Americans — left and right — overwhelmingly want access to guns, whether they want them for themselves or not, facts be damned. Americans seem to double down on gun violence by answering each mass shooting with a resounding shrug.
In some cases, after a mass shooting, Americans don't just ignore the facts about gun violence, they cash in. Stocks in firearms went up immediately following the carnage in Las Vegas, and Congress is set to ease restrictions on guns and — yes — even silencers. American Vice President Mike Pence has spent much of his career supporting the NRA and trying to make guns easier for Americans to own and carry with little restriction.
But, as always, the conversation will turn not to gun laws and gun availability, but to that old standby of "mental illness." Every single time there is a mass shooting in America, people line up to complain about mental illness being the cause rather than the gun in the hands of the shooters. If America would focus on mental illness, they argue, then the shootings wouldn't happen in the first place.
The problem with this argument is that it distracts from actually looking at the shooters and instead deflects to an imagining of who they really are.
The problem with this argument is that it distracts from actually looking at the shooters and instead deflects to an imagining of who they really are. The image of the "crazed psychopath" is a convenient one in many ways, because it allows the average American to dismiss mass shooters as someone who just snapped one day — a secretly unstable person that no one had any idea was going to commit such atrocities. We saw this immediately following the Las Vegas shooting, as everyone from Stephen Paddock's own brother to the police investigating the crime seem baffled, unable to find any evidence of a motive for this crime, let alone any signs of mental illness.
Yet Paddock entered the Mandalay Bay Hotel with over 20 guns. Further investigation found that he had dozens more. He's hardly unique in that Americans everywhere are stockpiling weapons. Three per cent of the gun-owning population owns more than half of America's millions of guns. Even as the rest of the country's gun ownership is on the decline, many gun owners continue to amass more and more weapons, stockpiling assault rifles in their homes and becoming one-man armies against... whatever.
The time has come to see these people as mentally ill.
While focusing on the fictional psychopath who "snaps" one day, America is constantly avoiding talking about its own paranoia. Time and again, we see that paranoid, bitter white men with access to a large number of guns are a serious problem in America. The FBI has continually warned that right-wing terror is on the rise and a major threat to the United States, and yet the fact angry white men with weapons keep committing such acts of violence gets thrown under the rug. By comparison, Americans fear Radical Islamic Terrorism far more than they do the heavily armed white guy, despite the fact they are in far more danger from the latter. This is because, no matter the talk about mental illness, Americans still don't see bitter white men with an overabundance of weapons as being mentally ill. In some circles, they are still called "patriots."
Although these angry white men stockpiling weapons are a small percentage of Americans, their sentiment isn't unique to them. Americans in general don't trust their government or their leaders. They think that armed revolution against the government isn't just possible, but perhaps necessary. They even give tips as to how much ammo should be stockpiled when that day arrives. No other first-world nation suffers from the paranoia that Americans do when it comes to their government and the thought of revolution against it. No other country suffers from the delusion that safety comes from the abundance of assault rifles and ammunition.
And yet this isn't treated as a mental illness.
It is time to stop treating people who feel they need to stockpile assault rifles as if they are not suffering from a mental illness. It's time to stop treating those who fantasize about war against their own countrymen as patriots. It's time to stop coddling the paranoia of bitter white men as being somehow justified. It's time to stop treating fear of a fictional boogeyman politician who doesn't exist as if it is rational. It is time to stop pretending the fear and paranoia and distrust of other Americans somehow makes sense.
Yes, Stephen Paddock was mentally ill in the same way all the people who find joy in arming themselves to the teeth with assault rifles and sometimes automatic weapons are mentally ill. He was mentally ill just like the guy who thinks it makes sense to have dozens of high-round ammunition magazines "just in case." He was mentally ill just like all those who feel the Second Amendment gives them the right to insurrection despite the fact that the same constitution (and U.S. history) shows us that it's just not true and never was.
Look at the angry men who are exactly the same every single day: paranoid, bitter and certain they are heroes in an army of their minds.
If America is serious about addressing mental illness, it needs to stop looking for the fictional deranged psychopaths that are totally fine one day and out of their minds the next. It needs, instead, to look at the angry men who are exactly the same every single day: paranoid, bitter and certain they are heroes in an army of their minds. These are men who purport to love their country but see a day coming in their lifetime when they must wage war against it. America needs to stop pretending that the fetishizing of assault rifles and the fantasizing about armed insurrection are somehow completely normal.
If not, America will likely continue to be tormented by the acts of violence of those who resemble the very tyrants they claim to be arming themselves against in the first place.
Ward Anderson is a SiriusXM talk radio host, author, and comedian. His TV talk show, Offstage with Ward Anderson can be seen on Amazon.com around the world. He is co-host of the daily talk show Ward & Al, heard on SiriusXM on the Canada Talks channel, Channel 167.
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