John Oliver on mental illness and the gun lovers using it as cover

Every time there’s another senseless act of mass-murder by a gunman with easy access to guns and ammo and a heaping helping of aggrieved entitlement, that’s when everyone in the political sphere suddenly remembers that mental health issues exist. Not that they often even intersect — just the mere fact that the guy (and it’s always a guy, and almost always white) killed a bunch of folks doesn’t actually say anything about their mental health. In fact, the Oregon shooter a few days ago passed a psych eval before his mass-murder. And yet everyone’s quick to say the problem here isn’t easy access to guns and ammo, but rather the murderer’s mental health.

John Oliver takes apart this situational and blatantly self-interested concern about mental health readily. Not that it’s hard, but nobody in the media is doing it, what with vested interests and an entire 33% of your country who thinks “a well regulated militia” means owning thirty guns in a misguided effort to try to take on the US government because you don’t like what some Republican has told you is going to happen to your gun rights.

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John Oliver on mental illness and the gun lovers using it as cover
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10 thoughts on “John Oliver on mental illness and the gun lovers using it as cover

  1. NFQ
    1

    I’ve been thinking about this a lot recently… and I’m certainly sympathetic to and agree with many of the ableism/stigma concerns. I also think it’s much more appropriate and relevant in the wake of mass shootings to talk about gun regulation than it is to talk about mental healthcare. The stat about people with mental illness being more likely to be victims of violence than perpetrators of it drives that last part home really hard.

    That being said… what do you call it when someone distraught by his inability to get a date has come to believe all women are collectively sabotaging his love life and deserve to be violently punished for this conspiracy? What do you call it when someone feels that it is appropriate to cause pain, suffering, and death on a massive scale in order to get some brief attention in the news? If this degree of narcissism, paranoia, and/or complete lack of empathy isn’t enough to get someone classified as having any degree of mental illness, I frankly don’t understand what mental illness even is.

    I want to be totally clear, I’m not endorsing the common claim/belief that people with mental illness are inherently dangerous or to be feared. I’m just confused by the assertions that all these mass murderers were actually completely free from mental health issues. It seems to me that thinking mass murder is a reasonable course of action is a pretty big red flag that a person is not thinking clearly or healthily in some really deep way. What am I missing here?

  2. 2

    @1, One thing you’re missing is the following. The dividing line between calling this mental illness vs. not in this case seems to be not the mass murder, it seems to be the lone wolf or even the societal expectations aspect. Were the KKK mentally ill when they lynched black people? If the answer is no, the question is why someone like Dylan Roof doing what he did is a sign of ‘not being right in the head’. The end result is basically the same, the only difference is that in the former is was de facto state sanctioned, it the latter it wasn’t, it was a lone actor. Not only that their motivations were identical as well, but in Roof’s case this is no longer socially acceptable.

  3. 3

    I’m all for better gun control but I don’t know how much it’ll help given the mindset of Americans. If we’re still excusing police brutality and celebrating the death of migrants we’ll never leave behind the kinda violence that creates spree killers. Still, it’s a pretty good immediate response until more long term measures get put into place

    @NFQ

    Misogynist? That’d be my go to word. Radical misogynist if you need to fill space.

  4. 4

    There’s a whole “crime of passion” category that got people reduced punishment for murder, because it was seen as common sense that of course people could be “driven to murder” if someone else upset them enough. For example, Chanelle Pickett was strangled to death by William Palmer because he dated her and then found out she was transgender. He got off on an assault and battery charge with a “trans panic” defense. There are many, many cases where murder is not only NOT seen as mental illness, but is successfully argued to be an understandable response. Mental illness only comes into play if there’s an assault rifle involved and some people start talking about regulating such things.

  5. 5

    NFQ

    That being said… what do you call it when someone distraught by his inability to get a date has come to believe all women are collectively sabotaging his love life and deserve to be violently punished for this conspiracy?

    MIsogyny.
    Really.
    Why do we know that somebody who is convinced that small hyperintelligent green beasties ares tealing their socks mighth ave some problems dealing with reality? Because that’S way outside our “normal” cultural context.
    Believing that the world owes you a hot girlfirend and that if the world is injust you should takea gun and right the wrong? Every single fucking Hollywood (maybe there are some out there featuring some fluffy bunnies that don’t). We live in a world that breeds and fosters male entitlement. where thousands of young men reinforce each other in their convictions. Where people are getting paid to write articles about how evil women and “feminisation” make poor dudes do it. It’s not a sign of mental illness to believe something many other people as well, no matter how wrong it may be.

  6. 6

    Americans glorify wars and warriors. Guns and holy gun wielders. They have violent action heroes of a wide variety. And glorify anti-heroes and villains as well. Willingness to “fight back”, or even pick a fight to defend “honor” is considered part of masculine identity. We demonize The Enemy and talk about the necessity of killing them to protect ourselves. Whether it is the necessity of killing a home invader in the name of Family, or killing brown people in the name of 9/11, an offensive defense is part of our political dialogue, in addition to all of the violence that is part of our arts, our culture, our very definition of the male gender. And then, when someone actually goes and kills someone, we think that is automatically proof that they are pathological. Everyone just suddenly forgets and starts playing dumb. Violence isn’t the product of mental illness. Violence is the norm. It is just a norm that a good chunk of society consistently opposes while the rest justifies it out of one side of their mouth, and dismisses out of the other side.

    And that’s where we get to the ridiculousness that is scapegoating “mental illness”. They never specify what mental illness causes murder. They never seem to appreciate just how broad the category “mental illness” is, and how very many, many, many of them would tend to lead to the exact opposite outcome. And they always love to jump to the “mental illness” conclusion with minimal evidence. Look at NFQ’s examples: “narcissism, paranoia, and/or complete lack of empathy”. Narcissism doesn’t lead to murder. “Paranoia” and “lack of empathy” are actually pretty fucking common, and they are symptoms, not illnesses. There is a degree of paranoia and lack of empathy that is still perfectly “normal”. (See: Republicans). They need to be pretty fucking extreme to be considered part of an actual disorder.

    What we have are just too many people who are blind to their culture. Blind to the fact that violence is everywhere. Blind to the casual ableism of simply assuming that every murderer MUST be mentally ill. And they will continue to stay that way. Because it is easier. It is easier to continue blaming an Other for grisly murders happening all the fucking time, than to admit that ANYONE could have been that murderer. That they are not necessarily abnormal in thought or biology, that they are quite disturbingly “normal”, and that being around “normal” people does not make you safe. That humans have always killed, always killed one another, and even in the modern, civilized world, even with so much restraints and so many protections, that has not changed. And, in America, it does not appear that we even sincerely want that to change.

  7. 7

    I actually gave a term for the nerd-who-couldn’t-get-a-date narrative in the original post: “aggrieved entitlement”. This is absolutely a misogynist flavour of that, but that’s what it is. The kid thinks he is owed by this world a date, and because he doesn’t have one, he feels aggrieved by the patriarchal narrative that a guy is worth nothing if he can’t get a date. He is entitled, according to the patriarchy; and if he doesn’t get one, it must be society’s fault. So he murders a bunch of people because his entitlement has been aggrieved.

  8. NFQ
    8

    @6 anteprepro wrote: Narcissism doesn’t lead to murder. “Paranoia” and “lack of empathy” are actually pretty fucking common, and they are symptoms, not illnesses.

    This is true, and I specifically said I don’t believe that we should treat all people with any mental illness as inherently dangerous, etc. But we’re often talking about the reverse of that claim, which is that people who are dangerous — especially people on agenda/spite-driven, mass-murdering sprees — seem like they have some degree of mental illness (by the popular understanding of what that means). My understanding (as a layperson, admittedly) is that many things get classified as “syndromes” or “illnesses” or what-have-you when they reach a degree where they interfere with your ability to function in daily life. This is why, for example, being really organized or having calming rituals doesn’t automatically mean you have OCD, but if your desire to organize things or to carry out your regular rituals is interfering with your ability to maintain friendships, interact with family, or function at work, we would consider calling it a “disorder.”

    Surely, many of these guys have patterns of thinking (yes, symptoms) which interfere severely with their ability to function in society, to put it mildly. (Maybe this is a partial answer to the above discussion about the KKK vs Dylan Roof, as well.) As I said, I agree with the general point here that it’s ridiculous how we collectively turn to “mental illness!” any time there’s a mass shooting, and how it’s a distraction from the real issue about guns in American culture. I just feel like people with their hearts in the right place can easily go too far in the opposite direction, to say something more like “none of these mass shooters had any mental health issues whatsoever!”, when it seems pretty clearly that at least some of them have some.

  9. 9

    NFQ: I just feel like people with their hearts in the right place can easily go too far in the opposite direction, to say something more like “none of these mass shooters had any mental health issues whatsoever!”, when it seems pretty clearly that at least some of them have some.

    Well certainly. Some have some. Because a large number of people have mental health issues, broadly defined. Because we know of certain mental health issues previous shooters have been actually been diagnosed with. The issue is two-fold:
    1. E-Psychiatry/Armchair Psychology. “Diagnosing” a mass shooter or deeming them mentally ill, with no qualifications and based on secondhand information.
    2. Stigmatizing mental illness further by unjustifiably associating violence and general mental illness, and defending those that do so.

    Very close to no one says that all mass shooters have no mental health issues. Quite a few people, though, do actually say the exact opposite, that all mass shooters have mental health issues and no mass shooters do not. So I don’t agree that “too many people go in the opposite direction”. It’s simply not true, that’s a simple false equivalence, the imagining of a mirror image discussion between equal and opposite sides when the reality is much more nuanced.

  10. 10

    anteprepro

    Well certainly. Some have some. Because a large number of people have mental health issues, broadly defined. Because we know of certain mental health issues previous shooters have been actually been diagnosed with.

    Yep, when one in five people hava a mental illness and you have a huge amount of mass shooters (like, more in an average week than Europe in a decade), some of them will have a mental illness. Yet establishing that soembody had a mental illness does not establish causality any more than having a black car and being a mass shooter establishes causality.
    All the data we have points to the opposite:
    1. Mentally ill people do not have higher rates committing mass murder than others.
    2. They are more likely to be victims of crimes than others

    There are a few mental illnesses that have a tendency to make people violent. That’S why involuntary commitment is possible. Nobody denies that psychopaths actuallly exist.

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