Is There a Witch Hunt Coming for the Mentally “Ill”?

When I go into my pediatrician’s office, there is a form I have to fill out for every visit.

How many people live in the home? – 6

Does anyone smoke in the home or use tobacco products? – No

Are there any fire arms in the home? – No

Any pets? – Heck NO!Well, we have a goldfish. Does that count?

For all intents and purposes, our home is a ‘safe place’. Like any other home it has its hazards like stairs  and kitchen knives, but there will never be a shooting in our home as a result of a gun that we own. Like so many others across this country, we’re not that type of family.

But so what?

As I’ve watched the news this week concerning the shooting at Sandy Hook – and I’ve done so sparingly because my heart can only take so much – I have seen an avid debate about guns and their access to the mentally ill. The direction of the debate is troubling for me, because it seems to be gradually morphing into a modern witch hunt for those whom we define as ‘abnormal’.

As we have come to find out, Adam Lanza was a young man who had Asperger’s Syndrome. Asperger syndrome (AS), also known as Asperger’s syndrome or Asperger disorder, is an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) that is characterized by significant difficulties in social interaction, alongside restricted and repetitive patterns of behavior and interests. It differs from other autism spectrum disorders by its relative preservation of linguistic and cognitive development. Although not required for diagnosis, physical clumsiness and atypical (peculiar, odd) use of language are frequently reported

I first heard about Asperger’s from an unlikely source about 5 years ago: America’s Next Top Model.

One of the contestants, whose name completely escapes me, had Asperger’s. She was awkward, but very pretty. She had poor social skills. Other than that, there was nothing to distinguish her from the other girls. In fact, if she had never revealed that she had Asperger’s, you might assume that she was merely a snob and leave it at that. She was no more cruel or unfeeling than the other girls on there, who as anyone knows, can be horribly catty.

A very good friend of mine has a son who also has Asperger’s. He is now 15, and although somewhat withdrawn, is jovial and enjoys watching the Daily Show and Jon Stewart. He is incredibly intelligent, but equally unmotivated. He can ace any standardized test but is flunking school because he refuses to do his school work. He literally falls asleep in class; from boredom I suppose. I don’t know, because he won’t talk about it. To my knowledge, he’s never engaged in a fight with anyone. The worse thing he can be accused of is saying mean things to his little sister who is 7 years his junior. Even that can be forgiven. After all, he was the “baby” for almost a decade until she usurped him.

I have another friend whose son is now 5 years old. He has not yet been diagnosed with any particular disorder, but he doesn’t speak or do any of the other things “normal” 5 year olds do. One thing he is exceptional at is the use of logic to solve problems in his day to day life. He watches how his mother keeps him out of kitchen cabinets and locked doors, and repeats the action in reverse so he can get access to whatever the restricted item may be. He kicks, bites and scratches on occasion, but he knows it’s wrong when he hurts someone else. He will sometimes sequester himself in his room after inflicting injury on another child.

What is my point? That just because someone has Asperger’s, autism or any other sort of mental disorder does not predispose them to violence. This is my fear that the media is taking the general, unthinking public in.

mentalStatistically, about than 4% of all violent gun-related crimes are committed by people with any sort of mental defect. When a drug dealer sprays up a playground with a hail of bullets, he doesn’t do it because he has Asperger’s. He does it because children are merely an inconsequential casualty in his drug war. When a man finds his wife in bed with another man and shoots them both a la THAT D’Angelo song, his motivation is jealousy, not because he has a pervasive mental disorder. Similarly, when someone robs a bank and targets the security guard. The armed guard serves as threat and that robber has a clear objective in fleecing that bank. His motives are selfishness and self-gain…not a consequence of mental illness.

In Adam Lanza’s case, we may or may not ever know what triggered him to such violence. He could have suffered sexual abuse. He may have been an over indulged child. He may have played violent video games and been acting out a fantasy. None of these things are circumstances that millions of Americans – and individuals all over the world – do not suffer and do not turn to mass murder as redress for their suffering. Adam Lanza’s mental disorder cannot be solely blamed for his actions. He alone is responsible for his actions. The fact that he had the presence of mind to commit suicide in the midst of the act shows he was functioning well enough to understand the gravity of what he’d done. Someone who is truly mentally ill would have justified and absolved themselves from all wrong doing in the act of a massacre.

I very convinced that the national conversation on gun control and mental illness is in danger of taking a sharp, wrong turn. We need to be focusing on people who have a propensity towards violence and keeping guns out of their hands, not just individuals with a diagnosed disorder. In addition to banning the future sale of military style weapons, we can also prevent gun violence by compelling manufacturers to make bullets for popular weapons already in the hands of criminals obsolete. In doing that, you create scarcity in the market. Alternatively, Chris Rock suggested that we price each bullet at $5,000 if want to reduce crime in urban areas.

As parents and adults, we have to have real conversations about compassion and empathy with our children and peers. Although she is not “mentally ill”, my eldest daughter has what we call the “Tinkerbell Syndrome”. She has poor impulse control  and explodes when things don’t quite go her way. She has made tremendous improvement in her attitude, but as she demonstrated last night, we still have a long way to go.

Last night I played a cruel joke on my kids at bedtime. I told them that since they were complaining about being sick, maybe they were too sick to travel to their grandparents house for Christmas this weekend. They burst into tears, mourning wildly at the prospect of spending a boring Christmas at our house with no tree and no presents.

“You don’t have the Christmas spirit!” Aya accused me.

“Nonsense,” I scoffed. “I just want you to be well. What’s more Christmas-y than that?”

They immediately insisted that they were well enough to travel and that we must make every effort to go. As Liya often does, she mimicked her elder sisters.

“I sick too Mawmie!” she croaked from her bed, feigning a coughing fit.

“Ah! See! We can’t go. Liya is sick too!”

When the girls began to cry again, I smirked wickedly and turned my back to them and made for my bedroom.

“Well why can’t we just throw Liya out of the window!” Nadjah roared between her tears.

That made me stop in my tracks. What?

I was too shaken to go back to the room and talk to her. Was I overreacting to this outburst? I asked Marshall if he thought I was.

“No,” he said, staring at his laptop. “We can talk to her about it.”

He didn’t seem as concerned as I was…as I still am.

Would Nadjah do something so permanently harmful to her baby sister just so she could have the benefit of temporary pleasure? Does/did she even understand the weight that her words carried and the wickedness that was entrenched within them? I have no idea, but I know that she will indeed by the time she completes this 500 word essay on why we don’t throw anyone or anything out of windows this evening.

Baring the fact that all my kids are so young, it stands to reason that I would not have a gun in my house around someone who has not developed enough empathy and God-given sense. I have to check her, and all my children. If not, I could be Adam Lanza’s mother too.