Namo amitabha Buddhaya, y'all.
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Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Stand Back. I Have Arms.

You guys, I know I just did a blog post, but I'm gonna have to do another one because I'm getting very concerned about all the stuff I'm reading about that guy in Santa Barbara who shot a bunch of people on Friday.  (It is a Buddhist In The Bible Belt policy not to publicly identify criminals who evidently want publicity.  This here's a religious blog, not a public-relations firm.)  Mainly I'm concerned about comments like this one from blogger Bernie O'Hare: "Guns may not kill people, but cRaZy people with guns do. Before anyone is permitted to own a gun, he should be forced to undergo a mental health evaluation."  Or this one from John Boehner, senator from Ohio and that guy who tans himself orange all the time: “There’s no question that those with mental health issues should be prevented from owning weapons or being able to purchase weapons." Or constitutional law professor and Second Amendment expert Adam Winkler on CBS News:  "We are making it too easy for people who are mentally ill to get access to guns."  Or this gem from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch: "If the nation can’t come together on the simple proposition that it should do everything possible to keep mentally ill people from acquiring or possessing weapons, then sanity has fled us all."

Just out of curiosity, are you guys talking about me, here?  Well, yes, you are.  Of course you are.

I'm a pretty ordinary person.  I own a house, have a wife, cats, car.  I hold down a regular job.  I love kittens, apple pie, baseball and Mom.  Oh, and I'm mentally ill.  Yeah, I forget about that once in a while, but it's definitely been on my mind for the last couple days. There's something deeply disturbing about watching a nation of people debating whether or not you, too should be allowed civil rights.  And here I was thinking all I had to worry about was whether or not Texas would legally recognize my marriage (and the answer, as it so often is, is maybe).  

Oh, and please don't start telling me I'm not one of "those" mentally ill people or that you meant those "other" mentally ill people.  There are no "others."  We all fit under the same definition.  No one has ever suggested I'm about to grab an AK-47 and go out on a rampage, but if you believe that "mentally ill people shouldn't be allowed to buy weapons," then you're throwing me into the pile.  And frankly, I'd rather be a part of that pile than have you single me out and explain to me why I'm somehow special or different.

The idea that mentally ill people shouldn't be allowed to buy guns is based on two errors in logic.  The first is that only mentally ill people go on shooting rampages.  That's a false correlation.  I'm sure people want to believe that only mentally ill people would want to kill a whole bunch of people in a Columbine or Sandy Hill-like attack, but the truth is that in a lot of shootings, the shooter was never diagnosed or even suspected of being mentally ill.  The shooting in Santa Barbara actively targeted women, specifically beautiful blonde women, because the terrorist in question believed that such women had rejected him.  Since it targeted a specific group and was underlined by specific beliefs, Santa Barbara was an act of terror, not an expression of mental illness.

The second error is that if a mentally ill person wants a firearm, he or she must be about to go on a shooting rampage.  Well, if you believe that, you may be interested to know that over 19,000 of the United States's 31,000-a-year gun deaths are suicides. (WISQARS Injury Mortality Reports, 1999-2010.) In fact,  the overall suicide rate is rising so rapidly that it now outnumbers deaths from car crashes. Over 80% of those suicide deaths were white males under the age of 40 (WIAQARS, supra.) You know, the same people who go on these rampages.  The statistics are clear: Putting a gun into the hand of a mentally ill person is a lot more likely to result in a suicide than a homicide.  And while nobody's suggesting suicide is a good thing, neither is being murdered, and the mentally ill have a much higher chance of becoming a homicide victim than they ever do of killing anybody.

I do not own a gun.  I have, in fact, never owned a gun.  Joan used to own a gun, and I shot it once in a while, but it wasn't my gun and I rarely even thought about its presence in our house except when my idiot neighbor began harassing us back a couple of years ago about a fence we didn't want to build or pay for.  During that particular saga, I was pretty damn glad we had a gun.  Now that we don't anymore, I don't particularly miss it, but if Fencegate were to rear its ugly head again, I'd feel better having a weapon in the house.  Especially if you're female, firearms are the great equalizer.  A woman may not be able to fend off a physical attack as well as a man, but hand her a gun and the discrepancy disappears.  Anybody can become a good shot.  It takes practice and patience, but it can be done, and there's no gender difference in knowing how to aim and learning how to take a kick.  

(I can imagine your surprise.  A Buddhist with a firearm!  Well, I also took karate classes for quite a long time.  I don't think there's anything involved with either owning a gun or knowing karate that automatically makes me a bad Buddhist.  I might, in fact, point out that the first defense in karate is ALWAYS to run away if you can.) 

Senator Mark Pryor said that Second Amendment rights should be returned to individuals "after they’ve recovered from their mental illness." Oh, well, that's great.  First of all, you don't "recover" from a mental illness.  If you have one, you've got it for life, and while your symptoms may come and go, and your medications may change, the illness itself isn't going anywhere.  For another thing, if they're constitutional rights, you don't take them and return them.  They are yours from birth, or from the moment you set foot in this country.  Yes, I know criminals lose the right to vote and certain other rights as a result of a conviction, but simply being sick is not the same thing as being convicted of anything. In short (let's put this in bold caps) BEING MENTALLY ILL DOES NOT MEAN THERE IS ANYTHING INHERENTLY WRONG WITH YOU.  It just means that you have a condition, like lots of other conditions, and you deal with it, just like lots of other people deal with theirs.  

I, for example, choke down a handful of pills every morning (six, if you want to know, and three more at night), see my doctor every month and check in with another doctor, again every month, to make sure things are going all right.  I don't have any wild mood swings, I'm not deeply depressed and I'm not running around like a headless chicken trying to do forty things at once.  In short, I'm acting like a normal person, which is to say that things are balanced.  Do I wish things were better or different?  Yes, sometimes, but that's not something a pill is going to fix or not fix.  Certain things are, after all, up to me to change or to leave the same.  

Now let's look at Joan for a second. Joan is diabetic.  Every morning she checks her blood sugar to make sure it's in the normal range.  She also takes a number of pills (I've actually forgotten how many) and a bunch of supplements to control her blood sugar and to keep her blood pressure from getting too high.  She also sees a doctor once in a while; not as often as I do, but then I have better health insurance (for which I pay through the nose).  No one has ever suggested that Joan should be banned from owning firearms. Her condition would have kept her out of the military, but then, so would mine, and despite many misreadings of the Second Amendment, it's not true that only "the militia" is allowed to keep and bear arms. 

What if her blood sugar goes too high or drops too low, and she goes on a shooting rampage? Well, I can't imagine Joan going on a shooting rampage, but if she did, I doubt her blood sugar would be to blame.  For the same reason, a mentally ill person going on a shooting rampage is not necessarily going on a shooting rampage because he or she is mentally ill.  He or she may just be a terrorist, and you don't have to be mentally ill to be a terrorist.  Take, for example, the pro-lifers who attack abortion clinics and/or doctors.  Nobody's suggesting they're mentally ill.  A little out of balance with their own statements of principle, maybe, but at the end of the day they're just boring old mundane terrorists.  Like Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols. 

I know it'd be comforting to believe that anybody who would shoot a bunch of people has to be crazy.  Having that belief allows you to divide up society into "us," the ones that would never do such a thing, and "them," the crazy people who would do such a thing.  But that's just not and never will be the case.  The truth is that anybody can be provoked to violence. Get into an argument where you feel that you have a personal stake in being right and let somebody push the right buttons and you might very well snap, haul off and slug somebody.  Which is why Buddhism preaches nonattachment to views and nonattachment to the whole notion of needing to be right.  If you're not attached to those things, you're less likely to be provoked to violence in defense of them.   

Hm. I've noticed that most of the people who go on these shooting rampages are white male Christians.  Maybe we should base the right to own firearms on religion.  Unconstitutional?  Yeah, probably.  Just like the idea that mentally ill people shouldn't be able to own firearms.  That pesky Second Amendment just keeps getting in the way.  And, people, that's what a Constitutional right is supposed to do.  If you don't have the right to do something, or not do something, regardless of popular opinion, then it's not a right.  It's just a suggestion.  And they didn't write a document called the "Bill of Suggestions" two hundred and forty-odd years ago.  Our system of government may be messy, but I wouldn't trade it for anybody else's.  

Would you? 

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