Favorite

Lyons: NRA makes bad situation worse 

click to enlarge Wayne LaPierre image
  • Gage Skidmore
  • Wayne LaPierre (used under a Creatives Commons license)

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.

Favorite

Speaking of...

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

  • Narcissist supreme

    An ordinary sociopath would have known to pretend shock and sorrow after the terrible mass murder in Orlando.
    • Jun 23, 2016
  • Coddling

    It's been 20 years since I started hearing alarming tales from a friend who supervised a daycare center for hospital employees' children.
    • Jun 16, 2016
  • Bash Bernie

    Here's my basic problem with Bernie Sanders: To put it bluntly, once a Trotskyite always a fool.
    • Jun 2, 2016
  • More »

People who saved…

Readers also liked…

  • The cult of gun-toting

    That Idaho mother shot to death by her 2 year-old son in a Walmart store? Judging by Veronica Jean Rutledge's biography, you can be just about certain that she'd driven to the store wearing a seat belt, with her little boy buckled carefully into his car seat.
    • Jan 8, 2015
  • Send your daughters to A&M

    This just in: "Study Finds Fruitcake Right, Anti-gravity Left Share Similar Traits, Tactics."
    • Feb 5, 2015
  • Live from darkest Arkansas

    Housebound in an ice storm, the columnist finds himself distracted by online trivia and tempted to yell at the TV.
    • Feb 19, 2015

Most Shared

  • Defense for Suhl asks judge to dismiss bribery indictment, citing Supreme Court decision in McDonnell case

    Attorneys for the businessman argue that his cash payments to a former deputy director of DHS, Steven Jones, did not constitute corruption. They say prosecutors cannot prove the money was given in exchange for any particular "official act" from Jones.
  • Nursing home bribery case details suspect judicial fund-raising

    Plaintiffs' lawyers made their case today to continue to trial with the civil suit over then-Judge Mike Maggio's reduction of a $5.2 million jury verdict in a nursing home negligence case to $1 million, a reduction he said he made in return for campaign contributions from the nursing home's owner.
  • Arkansas Heirloom Tomatoes at Edwards Food Giant for the Fourth of July weekend

    We are receiving 200-pounds of large heirloom tomatoes Friday morning from Times publisher and farmer Alan Leveritt. We have dark, brick red Carbons, Goldies (large, high acid golden tomatoes) and Annis Noire, a delicious French heirloom that is green with red marbling when ripe.
  • When America was great

    Donald Trump is right. There was a time when America was great and it didn't pussyfoot around to avoid offending people who thought they were victimized by discrimination. It was, let's see, the period after World War II, when everyone prospered and America was kicking butts, at home and abroad, and Arkansas's leaders were at the center of it.
  • Resistance grows nationally to freeway expansions

    The U.S. Public Interest Research Group has issued a news release about freeway expansion with relevance in Little Rock. It's about wasting money to widen freeways that only create more congestion. Sound familiar?

Latest in Gene Lyons

  • Narcissist supreme

    An ordinary sociopath would have known to pretend shock and sorrow after the terrible mass murder in Orlando.
    • Jun 23, 2016
  • Coddling

    It's been 20 years since I started hearing alarming tales from a friend who supervised a daycare center for hospital employees' children.
    • Jun 16, 2016
  • Democratic endgame

    • Jun 9, 2016
  • More »

Event Calendar

« »

July

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  

Most Viewed

  • When America was great

    Donald Trump is right. There was a time when America was great and it didn't pussyfoot around to avoid offending people who thought they were victimized by discrimination. It was, let's see, the period after World War II, when everyone prospered and America was kicking butts, at home and abroad, and Arkansas's leaders were at the center of it.
  • Medical marijuana: more is less

    Polling this week reiterates that Arkansans are ready for the medical use of marijuana to become public policy in Arkansas.

Most Recent Comments

  • Re: Medical marijuana: more is less

    • When must the SOS's office make an announcement on the valid signature count of the…

    • on July 1, 2016
  • Re: Coddling

    • Just retired from 28 years of teaching graduate students. While the majority were fine young…

    • on July 1, 2016
  • Re: A modest proposal for charter schools

    • Steve, you seem to ignore all the valid data to contradict what you just stated…

    • on June 30, 2016
 

© 2016 Arkansas Times | 201 East Markham, Suite 200, Little Rock, AR 72201
Powered by Foundation