Lyons: NRA makes bad situation worse 

Of all the outrages to decency and common sense during National Rifle Association president Wayne LaPierre's bizarre press conference following the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre, the most offensive may have been his depiction of America as a dark hell haunted by homicidal maniacs.

"The truth," LaPierre insisted, "is that our society is populated by an unknown number of genuine monsters — people so deranged, so evil, so possessed by voices and driven by demons that no sane person can possibly ever comprehend them. They walk among us every day. And does anybody really believe that the next Adam Lanza isn't planning his attack on a school he's already identified at this very moment?"

Monsters, evil, possessed. Demons, for the love of God.

Is this the 21st century, or the 17th? In LaPierre's mind, like many adepts of the gun cult, it follows that every grown man and woman must equip themselves with an AR-15 semi-automatic killing machine with a 30-round banana clip to keep monsters out of elementary schools. "Die Hard: With a Blackboard."

To be fair, polls show that most gun owners support reasonable reforms like closing the "gun show" loophole allowing no-questions-asked sales that evade FBI background checks. It may be politically possible to ban high-capacity magazines and to reinstate something like the assault weapons ban allowed to expire in yet another of President George W. Bush's many gifts to the nation.

That these actions would have limited short-term effect is no reason not to act. Nobody's Second Amendment rights would be compromised either. America can't achieve sensible gun laws without first politically isolating extremists.

But there's another way that LaPierre's appalling rhetoric helps make a bad situation worse. Loose talk about possession and demons serves only to deepen the stigma and shame surrounding mental illness and contributes to society's refusal to deal seriously with its effects.

Newtown mass shooter Adam Lanza hasn't been, and probably can't be, diagnosed with any certainty. But all the signs point to paranoid schizophrenia, a devastating brain disease whose victims are no more possessed by demons than are cancer patients or heart attack survivors.

Psychiatrist Paul Steinberg writes that early signs of the disease "may include being a quirky loner — often mistaken for Asperger's syndrome," the less stigmatizing diagnosis Nancy Lanza reportedly told friends accounted for her son's peculiarities.

Schizophrenia is a physiological disorder of the prefrontal cortex of the brain, resulting in disordered and obsessive thinking, auditory hallucinations and other forms of psychosis. Sufferers often imagine themselves to have a special connection with God or some other powerful figure. It's when they start hearing command voices telling them to avenge themselves upon imagined enemies that terrible things can happen.

Ronald Reagan's would-be assassin John Hinckley, Jr. suffers from schizophrenia; also John Lennon's killer Mark David Chapman. More to the point, rampage shooter Seung-Hui Cho, who killed 32 students and teachers at Virginia Tech in 2007, had been in and out of treatment for paranoid schizophrenia, but never hospitalized for long enough to bring him back to reality.

Nobody knew what to do about Jared L. Loughner, who killed six people while attempting to murder Rep. Gabby Giffords in Tucson. Same disease. After James Holmes began showing signs of advancing psychosis, University of Colorado officials more or less, well, "washed their hands of him" would be a judgmental way to put it. Then he killed 24 strangers attending a Batman movie in Aurora, CO. He reportedly mailed a notebook describing his mad plans to a university psychiatrist, which she received only after the fact.

With the possible exception of Lanza, all of these killers had exhibited overt symptoms of psychosis previous to their explosive criminal acts. They belonged in lock-down psychiatric hospitals under medical treatment — whether voluntarily or not. Nobody in Seung-Hui Cho or James Holmes' state of mind can meaningfully decide these things for themselves.

Properly speaking, psychosis has no rights.

Yet the biggest reason people don't act is that for practical purposes, ill-considered laws make involuntary commitment somewhere between difficult and impossible. Sources told New York Times columnist Joe Nocera that Connecticut makes it so hard to get somebody committed to a psychiatric hospital against their will that Nancy Lanza probably couldn't have done anything had she tried. (And risked antagonizing her son in the process.)

"The state and federal rules around mental illness," Nocera writes "are built upon a delusion: that the sickest among us should always be in control of their own treatment, and that deinstitutionalization is the more humane route."

A liberal delusion, mainly. The good news is that anti-psychotic medications work; diseased minds can be treated. Putting somebody into a psychiatric ward for 30 days shouldn't be as simple as a 911 call, but neither should it require the near equivalent of a criminal trial.

Just as with gun control, lives hang in the balance.

Speaking of...

  • Justin Moore has the Biggest Country Song in the Country (Again)

    June 25, 2014
    Billboard reports that as of this week, Justin Moore's "Lettin' The Night Roll" has climbed to the No. 1 spot on the Country Airplay charts, the fourth No. 1 hit for the singer born in Poyen, Ark. and now based in Benton (after a decade in the Nashville trenches). "I I love the simplistic nature of where I grew up," as Moore told Taste of Country recently. /more/
  • Jon Stewart mocks the gun nuts

    June 6, 2014
    It was custom-made for the Daily Show's Jon Stewart Texas gun nuts intimidating restaurants in Texas with group displays of semi-automatic rifles. The NRA criticizing. The gun nuts going ballistic, The NRA backing down. /more/
  • NRA folds to Texas gun toters, apologizes for criticism

    June 4, 2014
    The NRA has apologized for its statement criticizing invasions of Texas chain restaurants by groups armed with semi-automatic rifles as displays of support for open carry of firearms. /more/
  • Shocking! Even the NRA has limits on gun nuttery UPDATED

    June 2, 2014
    Even the NRA has a limit on gun foolishness. It has issued a strong statement about the bully boys in the open carry movement who've been making a show of their semi-automatic firepower in Texas chain restaurants. The NRA said gun toters had "crossed the line from enthusiasm to downright foolishness" in their restaurant displays. It warned of political backlash. /more/
  • The gun cult strikes again

    May 29, 2014
    Another week, another disturbed young man, another mass killing spree. It's come to where episodes like Eliot Rodger's murder of four men and two women near the Cal-Santa Barbara campus have become so frequent in America that the crime scene tapes have hardly been removed before people turn them into political symbols. /more/
  • More »

Comments (4)

Showing 1-4 of 4

Add a comment

 
Subscribe to this thread:
Showing 1-4 of 4

Add a comment

More by Gene Lyons

  • Exterminating the Palestinians

    If Secretary of State John Kerry has failed to bring about a cease fire to end the bloodbath in Gaza, then so has everybody else.
    • Jul 30, 2014
  • Americans like GOP words on foreign policy but Democrats' actions

    Search the phrase "the most powerful man in the world" and what comes up are photos of grotesquely over-developed weight-lifters; also Barack Obama and Vladimir Putin. Awfully ironic under present circumstances. It's a cant term TV news anchors use to describe U.S. presidents, enhancing their own self-importance as chroniclers of the great.
    • Jul 24, 2014
  • More »

People who saved…

Readers also liked…

  • Lyons: Obama misportrayed

    • Sep 12, 2012
  • Lyons: About those 47 percent

    When Mitt Romney came to Little Rock a while back for one of those $50,000 per couple fund-raisers where he pretends to tell plutocrats what he really thinks, he acted more like somebody in the Federal Witness Protection Program than a presidential candidate.
    • Sep 19, 2012

Latest in Gene Lyons

  • Exterminating the Palestinians

    If Secretary of State John Kerry has failed to bring about a cease fire to end the bloodbath in Gaza, then so has everybody else.
    • Jul 30, 2014
  • Americans like GOP words on foreign policy but Democrats' actions

    Search the phrase "the most powerful man in the world" and what comes up are photos of grotesquely over-developed weight-lifters; also Barack Obama and Vladimir Putin. Awfully ironic under present circumstances. It's a cant term TV news anchors use to describe U.S. presidents, enhancing their own self-importance as chroniclers of the great.
    • Jul 24, 2014
  • Professors can't be rape police

    If one believes even a significant fraction of the horror stories in the national news media, beastly male behavior has become almost epidemic on American college campuses. Tales of drunken sexual assault and worse multiply from sea to shining sea.
    • Jul 16, 2014
  • More »

Event Calendar

« »

August

S M T W T F S
  1 2
3 4 5 6 7 8 9
10 11 12 13 14 15 16
17 18 19 20 21 22 23
24 25 26 27 28 29 30
31  
  • Re: Enter the loan sharks

    • COMMON WEALTH LOAN FINANCE FIRM EMAIL-[commonwealthloanfirm@gmail.com] ADDRESS-Senator House,85 Queen Victoria Street,London EC4V 4HA, UNITED KINGDOM…

    • on August 1, 2014
  • Re: Little Rock's nannies target clubbing

    • First of all I work late and when I get off I want to go…

    • on July 31, 2014
  • Re: Little Rock's nannies target clubbing

    • ya know, there are people who work all hours of the day and night. Round…

    • on July 31, 2014
 

© 2014 Arkansas Times | 201 East Markham, Suite 200, Little Rock, AR 72201
Powered by Foundation