Let me predict what we will find out about the shooter in the appalling church massacre that happened last night. I’m doing this without benefit of much more than the basic CNN headlines this morning.
He’s a loner, not popular in high school or college. Probably bullied. Probably doesn’t get on well with women of any kind. He will have a history of mental health issues and/or drug problems. Those drugs will likely be from his parents’ medicine cabinet. Those problem will have gone under-treated or entirely untreated.
He’s probably very focused on guns and all things gun. I’ll give you any bet that his family has a good sized gun collection, which he used extensively. It’s also likely that school and perhaps family medical professionals were unable to escalate the care he was receiving because of reporting limits and patient confidentiality.
How can I be so sure that I’ll hit the bulls-eye on most of these? It’s easy; they are always like that. I’ve ranted about this issue so many times in this blog, it feels like a broken record. This country has two huge problems, simply put: mental health and guns. Our medical system is horrible at spotting and escalating mental health problems, in part because of resources and in part because the draconian patient privacy regulations mean that what they can do is drastically curtailed.
This country has always had a weird relationship with mental health. Our Puritan roots lead us to regard it as a character flaw to be mocked, feared or hidden rather than treated. It’s true that in earlier times it was possible for people to be cast into psych ward hell for the wrong reasons, but the pendulum has swung back too far.
When Reagan closed the majority of mental hospitals in the early 80s, it set the direction. Now, our inner cities are littered with the broken remains of the homeless and mentally ill — a growing group of which are returning veterans. We have a massive problem of over prescription and abuse of narcotic pain meds.
Now let’s add in widely available guns held as a political third rail by a vocal and powerful gun lobby, and there is a recipe for disaster. I have said this so many times it’s becoming a cliché, but it bears repeating. The UK and the US have so much in common. We speak alike, we love our kids, our teams and our countries. We think alike (in many ways), but the one thing I can think of where our cultures differ dramatically is in guns.
In the US in 2013, the deaths by firearms per 100K of population was 10.64. In the UK, the same prorated number for 2010 was 0.25. That’s 42 times the death rate. I can’t think of a single other area where our societies differ so dramatically.
As I write this, I see that he’s been caught, apparently alive. The president will speak, people will hold candle-lit vigils. There will be a trial with an insanity defense, nothing will change, and we will all go back to usual. Until the next time.