t’s hard to imagine how a sane person could kill his mother by shooting her in the face, then break into an elementary school and kill 27 people — including 20 children and himself. So it’s no wonder that as soon as reports surfaced of shy, socially awkward 20-year-old Adam Lanza’s Newtown, Connecticut killing spree, mental illness became one of the culprits. But is it really?
Friends of Adam Lanza’s mother appeared on 60 Minutes last night reporting that the killer had been diagnosed with Aspergers Syndrome. But according to an article in The Lancet by Vanderbilt University professor Jonathan Metzl, our tendency to blame the mentally ill for gun violence is probably unwarranted.
Mentally ill people actually don’t commit a whole lot of crime — even gun crimes, the article says. One in four U.S. adults struggles with a mental health disorder in a given year and 10 percent of children have serious mental or emotional disorders, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness.
The Lancet says:
The mentally ill have only recently become a scapegoat for American violence, the article says. In the first half of the 20th century, schizophrenia was considered a disease “marked by ‘genteel docility’.” It wasn’t until the 1960s and ’70s, when the FBI began to falsely ascribe mental illness and schizophrenia to armed black militants like Malcolm X and Robert F. Williams that Congress began to urge gun control, passing the Gun Control Act of 1968.
One reason the mentally ill keep bearing arms is that we keep changing the definition of who is mentally ill, The Lancet argues. Now the boogeyman isn’t armed black radicals. It’s the armed white male lunatics who have comprised a majority of the nation’s mass murderers — 44 of the 62 that have occurred in the past 30 years, according to Mother Jones.
We do need a better mental health care system and no doubt many of these killers were clinically insane. Mother Jones reports:
But 38 mentally ill mass murderers leaves 24 mass murderers un-accounted for. Were they actually mentally ill?
The Lancet cautions us against prematurely concluding that they were:
The takeaway: Sane folks need to do some soul-searching too.
h/t David Leonard
Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that Apsergers Syndrome is not a mental illness.