Navy Yard Shootings: The Stigmatizer’s Wet Dream

by Bill Brenner on September 24, 2013

With last week’s terrible Washington Navy Yard murders, politicians are preaching the importance of better mental health services. In the process, stigma building has reached disturbing heights.

Mood music:

This massacre, like Sandy Hook and Aurora, Colorado, before it, was perpetrated by a troubled soul with some degree of mental illness. Navy Yard killer Aaron Alexis had told authorities weeks before that he was hearing voices in his head. Aurora shooter James Holmes had colored his hair red and was dressed head to toe in black tactical gear when he murdered people. After he was arrested, he told police he was The Joker. Adam Lanza had a history of deep mental illness when he grabbed his mother’s guns, killed her and headed to Sandy Hook Elementary School.

As a result, the media is sinking its teeth into the crazy factor, the notion that if you’re mentally imbalanced, you might be the next mass murderer. The NRA, in an effort to deflect renewed calls for tougher gun control, suggests the problem is that too many homicidal maniacs are running loose. NRA Chief Wayne LaPierre went as far as suggesting more of the mentally ill need to be committed.

What LaPierre and others are saying is “If someone is mentally ill, they are a potential threat to public safety.”

Whether they they really believe that or not is debatable. It’s true that recent shooters were deeply disturbed emotionally and mentally. But the words LaPierre chose paints everyone with mental illness as a dangerous lunatic and they build an undeserved stigma.

My struggles with mental illness are well established. It’s the reason I started this blog. At my lowest lows, I never considered picking up a rifle and wiping out a school. I know many, many people who have struggles similar to mine. I don’t know of a violent soul among them. They include business leaders, cops, doctors, friends and family.

Suggesting these tragedies are about the need to register mentally ill citizens in a database and commit them if necessary is as stupid as suggesting that tougher gun control laws will prevent more mass shootings. It hasn’t worked in the past, and it won’t work now.

Recent shootings didn’t happen because we have an epidemic of crazies on the street. I don’t even think weak gun laws are to blame. They happened because somewhere in the sequence of events, someone didn’t do what they were supposed to do.

Lanza’s mother kept a lot of guns around the house, even though she knew how disturbed her son was. She could have kept the weapons locked up and out of sight. Instead, they were easily accessible at the moment her son snapped.

Alexis had called police a week before the shootings and told them he heard voices he feared were “sending vibrations through his body” and were out to hurt him. Police questioned him, and then notified the Navy police. Naval police sat on the information, and Alexis held on to his security clearance, ability to carry a weapon and access to the Washington Navy Yard.

Along the way, people with the authority failed to follow the most basic of security protocols.

Maybe it’s time to stop debating whether the problem is too many guns and too many crazies, and demand those responsible for security do their jobs better.

DC Shooting Suspect

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Andrea Robinson September 24, 2013 at 10:09 am


Tom September 24, 2013 at 11:20 am

I absolutely agree. While mental health factors into it (at least with those who snap on a large scale), the fact that there are multiple red flags, multiple balls dropped, is the real problem.

If people did their job, these massacres could have been prevented.

Catherine W September 25, 2013 at 12:10 am

Thank you, thank you, thank you! I have been getting so upset that the only thing anyone seems to focus on is the mental health and thus painting a picture that all of us who have mental health issues even think of doing the same thing. We aren’t all the same and they are making those who haven’t sought treatment feel more stigmatized by focusing only on that fact when there are so many others at play, like the availability of guns in general.

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