Guest commentary: Gun control will not address main cause of gun violence

Guest commentary: Gun control will not address main cause of gun violence


It is unlikely that the vast majority of us will ever vaguely understand why a person could believe that driving to a school and shooting 20 children — as recently was the incomprehensible nightmare in Connecticut — is a reasonable idea. There have to be so many short circuits in the basic wiring of that individual's humanity that to even approach that sort of thinking is far beyond the boundaries of our own minds. So we rage. And we pray. And we struggle to scab over the wound in all of our hearts.

And we wonder what we can do to keep such a tragedy from happening again.

Inevitably, each time another group of innocents are massacred, we talk about gun control — and we have yet another opportunity to shout at one another across the political, social and regional divides that have riven our nation for too long.

On one side, we hear the perfectly reasonable argument that erecting barriers to gun and ammunition purchases will make it more difficult for anyone to walk into schools, movie theaters, shopping malls and houses of worship to slaughter and maim those whose only crime is to present a target of opportunity. On the other side we have the equally reasonable argument that the vast majority of gun owners are law-abiding citizens who cannot understand why restrictions should be placed upon them because of the actions of the very few; many times these solid citizens land in the extremist arms of the NRA, regardless of the nuances of their beliefs about gun ownership, simply because they have no one else defending their interests.

The end result is predictable. After much hooting and hollering, our various levels of government will pass laws that make few happy and protect virtually no one.

If we put more restrictions on legal gun ownership and ammunition sales, we will create yet more expensive bureaucracies that will devote scarce resources to the task of closely monitoring the activities of those who are least likely to commit a crime with a gun. If we increase the penalties for gun-related crime, we will add more time in jail onto the sentences of those who are least likely to be deterred by the presence of a new law and give them a little more time behind bars to lift weights and become further estranged from mainstream society.

If we restrict the domestic manufacture of guns and ammunition, many jobs will move to other countries, and those who are willing to import weapons into the United States — by means both legal and illegal — will become stupendously wealthy thanks to dirt-cheap overseas labor and high domestic demand.

And if government officials should seek to confiscate the hundreds of millions of weapons now in the hands of our citizens, I have only one comment to make: good luck with that.

The simple fact of the matter is that for reasons historical, political, and illogical we here in the United States live in a gun culture. I've lived in big cities, small cities, suburbs and rural communities — and I've always been surrounded by guns and gun owners. Forty-nine states permit concealed carry — and due to a recent court ruling, Illinois is on track to make it an even fifty. We can argue, analyze and wring our hands about this, but it won't change anything.

Yes, I know that this is a lifestyle that citizens in many other countries find more than a bit bizarre, but it is our American reality, and I do not believe that any law will change it. We should, as a matter of personal responsibility, store and handle guns safely — just as we would any dangerous object — and be ready to bear the consequences if our lack of responsibility harms others.

Existing laws regarding gun safety and storage tend to mirror a number of others already on the books regarding the need for personal responsibility when dealing with something that may cause harm to others, and those who violate these laws are at high risk of civil penalties in addition to the criminal ones. However, no existing law — nor any being contemplated — gets to the core of what most revolts us, the seemingly endless parade of lone gunmen firing into crowds of people they do not know for reasons equally unknown. Although restrictions on the sale of 30- and 100-round ammunition clips could be of some help, there is no way to prevent someone with the will to do harm from carrying multiple guns or using other highly destructive home-made weapons.

Perhaps we need to consider another approach to this problem, one that is more likely to address the underlying cause of mass murder with guns in our society.

When it comes to the perpetrators of mass shootings, we have to face up to a clear reality: These folks are struggling with severe mental illness, and our nation has pretty much abandoned the mentally ill to their own devices. We are shockingly content to allow the most troubled among us to self-medicate with drugs and alcohol, struggle with poverty and homelessness, and serve as a tremendous burden on their overwhelmed families.

According to the National Institute for Mental Health, 26 percent of Americans suffer from a diagnosable mental disorder in any given year. Although this percentage includes all disorders from the mildest to most disabling, it points to a prevalence that does not come close to matching available resources — as anyone who has ever sought needed treatment that is affordable for themselves, a friend or family member can readily attest. Government at all levels is anxious to hand out tax breaks to those who least need them, build sports palaces for the entertainment of the masses, and squander money on every pork barrel project under the sun, but we only grudgingly help those who are isolated and terrified because their minds have betrayed them.

Although the media rush to cover the most horrifying and obvious tragedies, they miss the millions of small and intensely damaging tragedies that affect the mentally ill and those around them each and every day. As certain as we all are that mental illness and guns do not mix well, it is equally true that mental illness does not mix well with marriage, children, employment, personal hygiene, alcohol, legal and illegal drugs, and every basic daily responsibility to oneself and others. To refuse to help the mentally ill except to provide the most basic (read: cheap) medical care is the scandal of our society, and all the recent mass shootings only serve to illustrate our grotesquely penny-wise and pound-foolish approach to those struggling with illnesses that do not bleed but cause agony to themselves and those around them.

I am sure we will pass some new laws as a result of the schoolhouse horror in Connecticut. Perhaps these new laws will have some small beneficial effect. However, until we muster the resources and the will to help those who are so far removed from any sense of reality that the most heinous actions seem like a perfectly good idea, we will have no safety, our friends and neighbors will have no peace, and a broad swath of those living in our cities, towns and villages will have no respite from the terrors inflicted by their own disintegrating minds.

Andrew Wilk is a former teacher at Urbana High School and a regular commentator on education issues. He can be reached at


Comments for this post are read only.

rsp wrote on December 30, 2012 at 7:12 pm

While I'm all in favor of considerable more funding for services for mental illness the fact is most shootings do not involve mental illness, even mass shootings. 

BillD88 wrote on December 31, 2012 at 6:12 am

Agnes, if you were such a purist on the "life" issue, you'd be for banning guns, capital punishment, and war.  Instead you exhibit the same right-wing extremist blow-hard know-it-all disconnect that makes reasoned discourse with people like you impossible.

Seems to me you're not in for the whole enchilada of being pro-life.  If you could show a fraction the mouth and alot more backbone, your comments might mean something.

So far, they dont.

Citizen1 wrote on December 31, 2012 at 7:12 am

All the health services in the world will not prevent those with mental problems from obtaining guns with current laws.  Privacy rights for health history and sealed records for crimes committed by those under age means that there are no records to search for a gun permit.  At some point the public has a right to be kept safe.  Open those records to prevent crime rather than wait until crimes happen to give help.

Sid Saltfork wrote on December 31, 2012 at 9:12 am

Citizen1;  You made a good point.  If mental health records were available to the police; it would mean that they would have the ability to make a better decision on who can obtain a gun, or guns.  It would allow the police to confiscate guns from the mentally ill who already possess them also.  It would drastically reduce the number of guns in the country.  A mental health evaluation requirement for gun owners would add to the reduction of guns.  A comprehensive data base of gun owners including the types of guns possessed, and their addresses would assist law enforcement also. 

Squirrel wrote on December 31, 2012 at 9:12 am

Talk about a slippery slope - a mental health evaluation requirement for gun owners. On the face of it that sounds safe. But, after ceding away your right to bear, what if the "evaluators" decide anybody that wants to own a gun is crazy? Maybe even needs to go to a camp to get their mind right on the subject. Such a system is ripe for abuse.

And while we're at it, maybe a mental health evaluation is required before we exercise our rights to free speech. (certainly wonder sometimes about the sanity of some of the flamers)

And a mental health evaluation before we exercise our right to vote. No question in my mind that some of the voters are crazy.

It strikes me that mental health is not an easily definable thing. It also strikes me that the mental health profession is remarkable unaccountable. Many, not all, of these wackjobs have been in some type of evaluation/counseling by professsionals who seem to bear no responsibility whatsoever. Here we go with the slippery slope - so do we let mental health professionals start committing people who might commit a crime?

There are no easy answers



ROB McCOLLEY wrote on December 31, 2012 at 12:12 pm
Profile Picture

What the subject was of the teaching — fundamentally and clear-made when doing the reading and slogging through of only the first paragraph but also others here, above — is distinctly not the grammar.


Also agreeing with the participles, you should, inevitably. 

45solte wrote on December 31, 2012 at 12:12 pm

I will repost what you pulled, NG:

So where are the sourced data supporting the assertion that 'even (most) mass shootings' are not committed by persons who have mental illness? 

Mother Jones did a little googling, too, I guess:

‘the more liberal our society becomes, the more its problems caused by liberalism are blamed on society’s remaining conservatism.’

Good little foot soldiers of class warfare?  A new generation of Ayers-Dohrn types isn’t exactly what I would consider well, mentally:

And, in case my account is suspended, keep this little retro-84 incident in mind:



rsp wrote on December 31, 2012 at 4:12 pm

Mother Jones claims signs of mental illness but gives no justification for it. I can find signs and symptoms in anyone. How about we stick to people who were diagnosed, not rumors or speculation. Mental illness is a medical illness. Nobody would say someone had lung cancer because they coughed. It's really easy to find signs to justify something after the fact. If people were interviewed without knowing what was happened they wouldn't "remember" those convenient details. 

rsp wrote on December 31, 2012 at 1:12 pm


Champaign police: 2 dead in murder-suicide

Maybe people could stop with the name-calling. Show a little respect for others.