This essay was written after a mass shooting when Obama was president and I lived in Los Angeles. It appeared in the now offline Queer Mental Health.
I have Schizoaffective Disorder, anxiety and PTSD. Upon one of my many discharges from a psych ward I had to sign an affidavit that I would not buy a gun for five years. I have no desire to buy, own, or be even faintly near to a gun ever in my life. That is not happening. No gun ownership for me.
As I watch mass shooting after mass shooting play out on CNN and Obama’s recent town hall on guns, the same themes play out over and over. The mentally ill are consistently blamed for gun violence as a convenient scapegoat to avoid facing the real culprit for gun violence: toxic masculinity and the sheer ease and availability of gun ownership in America.
Over Christmas I was in Reno, Nevada visiting my extended family. On a snowy day my parents and I went to two massive sporting goods stores to search for binoculars and a thermal vest. Nevada really is the Wild West still. Hunting is big there. I had never seen so many weapons in one place in all of my life. Handguns, rifles, crossbows, bows and arrows. Everything one might need for their next mass shooting or crime was neatly displayed and sold at Cabela’s of Boomtown.
In Cabala’s I Instagrammed a gluttonous plethora of taxidermy dioramas. We toured the audio-animatronic dead Republican presidents display in the upper level of Scheels by the ferris wheel. It was an overstimulating circus. With my overwhelming, fearful revelation of how many people around me might be concealed carrying now that I knew how easy it was to buy a gun, I had to take a calming Xanax in the snack bar. Conspicuously Californian in my ridiculous leggings, I felt like a target. Guns and rednecks terrify me.
Most mentally ill people will never commit a violent act. Only about 4% of violence in the United States can be attributed to people diagnosed with mental illness. Yet we, my people, are consistently blamed for violent acts. My mother said to me when I told her I was writing this essay that she felt one must be insane to commit a violent act. That is an erroneous definition of insanity, but one which the public conveniently conflates upon in the gun control debate.
In all of my reading of the DSM-IV, I know of no mental health diagnosis that produces violent behavior with the exception of possibly paranoid schizophrenia and PTSD. Even those two stereotypes of the “paranoid schizophrenic political activist” and “crazy vet” can be dispelled by examining the racist and politically motivated causes for those stereotypes. I can attest, most schizophrenics with PTSD would really prefer to be left alone then have to content with any sort of violence. We hate that shit. In the case of PTSD, violence is often what began our troubles in the first place.
Anxious, bipolar, depressed, OCD, PTSD-afflicted citizens are far more likely to take their own lives then those of other people in order to escape the misery of being mentally ill. Mentally ill people have more to fear from guns in their own hands than any other people around them. Suicide is the biggest reason why the mentally ill shouldn’t have guns. Gun is the quickest, most irreversible, and most devastating route to death. I don’t think the mentally ill should be allowed to own guns in order to protect us, because of our suicide risk.
No one except law enforcement should have guns, according to me. Even police have proven to be woefully inadequate at keeping their mental health response teams from just shooting the person in crisis. Police routinely shoot unarmed African American children in playgrounds or citizens at traffic stops. In the UK, even the police don’t have guns and they have very little gun violence. Something for the USA to consider, although I doubt it would ever happen.
A study I read online said that, “An extensive surveys of police incident reports demonstrate that, far from posing threats to others, people diagnosed with schizophrenia have victimization rates 65% to 130% higher than those of the general public…Victimization is a greater public health concern than perpetration.”
Even schizophrenia, part of my diagnosis and the most common target of the violent psychopath stigma, is usually marks by social isolation, withdrawal and introversion into a fantasy world. I would much rather be inside peacefully hallucinating faeries and ghosts on the white walls of my apartment and listening to the voices of my dead ancestors counseling me than marauding about committing crimes. Violence is caused by interpersonal conflict, passion, poverty, racism, religious xenophobia and political intent. Not by mental illness.
We the mentally ill are peaceful. I am hallucinating peacefully in my apartment in Hollywood. I wish only not to be harmed by the angry white male rednecks who are occupying the bird sanctuary in Oregon who I fear may be part of a larger rising tide of right-wing extremism. That sort of violence is political and incendiary. Please keep your nasty guns away from me. I know if the revolution starts I’m getting shot pretty quickly into it.
The risk is exponentially greater that individuals diagnosed with serious mental illness will be assaulted by others, rather than the other way around. That has been my experience as well. Given how easily the mentally ill are to gaslight, later violence is common. I have been the victim of domestic violence many times where the presence of a gun in the apartment would have resulted in my death. Strangulation and knife fights I was able to survive. If there was a gun on that bedside table I would have died.
More women are killed by guns in the hands of domestic partners than any other way. My boyfriend repeatedly tells me he wants to get a gun. He is not abusive, but quick-tempered. When I told him of my fears of getting shot by him on a hike in Griffith Park, he got so angry at me that I almost didn’t have a boyfriend by the time I got off of that mountain.
After watching a marathon of American Horror Story: Hotel at my boyfriend’s house, I had nightmare about sleeping on a mattress with a gun underneath it. Feeling the cold, death-dealing barrel through the mattress. When I awoke I decided I was better off not knowing if there was a gun under the mattress and never looked for one. It was only a dream.
Online I read that, “The number of American troops killed in Afghanistan and Iraq between 2001 and 2012 was 6,488. The number of American women who were murdered by current or ex male partners during that time was 11,766. That’s nearly double the amount of casualties lost during war.” I don’t think my boyfriend would actually shoot me. But I cannot help but feel this fear that comes of being female. I have many fears like that.
All of those times I was raped a gun wouldn’t have saved me. Personally I’d far rather be raped then go to jail for shooting someone I was fighting with and possibly romantically linked to, however peripherally. Given my ineptitude at shooting and shy nature, any attempt by me to use a gun in self-defense would also likely result in me getting shot as well.
I would never shoot anyone even if I did have a gun. I don’t think I would have the stomach for it. I don’t even hit people, once I grew up and stopped beating up on my little sister. My preferred self-defense is running away, although I do carry pepper spray. A gun only works for self-defense if you know how to use it, and even then it is far more likely to be turned against you.
Guns frighten me. As a mentally ill person I have no desire to own one or even be in the same house as one. I agree with the dominant discourse that the mentally ill shouldn’t have guns because of our suicide risk. But I don’t think any of you sane people should be allowed to have guns either. Clearly, at the rate that people are dying, the sane populace just as much as the insane cannot be trusted with guns.
Toddlers shoot way more people then terrorists. There is an epidemic of children getting ahold of their parents guns and shooting each other. We have a dangerous crisis on our hands.
The president says something must be done about this widespread gun violence and the nation agrees, but we all disagree on what that something to be done actually is. I don’t have a solution, either. For the moment, it is all I can do sometimes to not just stay in my apartment and hide from the dangerous gun-toting America outside.