Friday, October 19, 2012

Mental illness and violence

If I believed it was possible to jinx oneself, I would say that I jinxed myself; yesterday I said I had the best sleep ever, and then last night I didn't sleep at all. Fuck you, insomnia.

In spite of being something of a political junkie, I did not watch any of the US presidential debates; insomnia is to blame again, here. I have a hard enough time falling asleep as it is without my brain being all excited over politics, both in terms of dwelling on what answers I liked, and what answers I did not like. As a result, my knowledge of what was said during the debates was limited to what was reported in the news and on the various blogs I follow.

Mitt Romney said a lot of stupid shit in the debate on Tuesday (binders full of women, eh?), which I expected. I've seen a lot of commentary regarding Romney's answer to the question of gun violence, in which he cited heterosexual marriage and parenting as the solution. Not only is this insulting to single-parent families and other non-heteronormative families, it comes across as a personal attack on President Obama, who spent parts of his live being raised by a single-mother. Hey, Romney, I haven't forgotten which one of you was the bully that helped hold a kid down and give him a haircut because you thought he was gay, and it definitely wasn't the guy in the single-parent household.

That being said, I wasn't at all pleased with President Obama's answer to that question, either:

So my belief is that A, we have to enforce the laws we’ve already got, make sure that we’re keeping guns out of the hands of criminals, those who are mentally ill. We’ve done a much better job in terms of background checks, but we’ve got more to do when it comes to enforcement.


And so what I want is a — is a comprehensive strategy. Part of it is seeing if we can get automatic weapons that kill folks in amazing numbers out of the hands of criminals and the mentally ill. But part of it is also going deeper and seeing if we can get into these communities and making sure we catch violent impulses before they occur.
Because my depression really makes me want to get my hands on an AK-47 and shoot up a public place. Thanks, Mr. Obama, I didn't know that about myself.

The idea that mentally ill people are more likely than anyone else to be violent is just as bullshit as Romney's suggestion that heteronormative marriage leads to less violent offspring. It's also insulting, as is the correlation Obama made between mentally ill people and criminals. Not only are mentally ill no more likely to be violent than someone who isn't, we're actually more likely to be the targets of crime, including violent crime (source). This is in part because of the negative stigma surrounding mental illness, a stigma that the President of the United States just helped to perpetuate.

Targeting the mentally ill is not going to reduce gun violence in the US. Personally, I think that what's needed is a serious overhaul in the way Americans view guns, as well as their precious Second Amendment. American politicians, however, seem to be unwilling to criticize a problematic gun culture, and so instead they draft ineffective laws that aim to keep guns out of the hands of the mentally ill.

Obama's answer wasn't all bad; better enforcement of existing gun control laws is a good starting point, and trying to catch violent impulses before shit gets bad also sounds like an idea. Still, there was no need to give credence to an ableist, factually-incorrect stereotype about mentally ill people in the process. Part of Obama's gun control strategy should be protecting the mentally ill, not stigmatizing us.

I expected better from this president, and I'm kind of seething over how badly he fucked up with this question. I'll never express my anger with a gun, though.

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