California Lutheran University's Student Newspaper Since 1961

The Echo

California Lutheran University's Student Newspaper Since 1961

The Echo

California Lutheran University's Student Newspaper Since 1961

The Echo

    The Issue Is Not Mental Health

    On Valentine’s Day of 2018, Americans suffered a mass shooting at the hands of 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz, who shot and killed 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida according to The New York Times. The focus of the debate that followed centered on mental health. Though it’s important to consider preventative measures to deal with mental illness, it’s not what’s going to solve the national problem of mass shootings in the U.S.

    According to the New York Times, President Donald J. Trump took to Twitter soon after the shooting to offer his prayers and condolences to the victims and their families, as did several other politicians. The president also reiterated the importance of tackling “the difficult issue of mental health.”

    In a tweet earlier that day, Trump declared that the school shooting could have been prevented had the gunman’s neighbors and classmates paid attention to the warning signs he exhibited, and acted accordingly by reporting his erratic behavior to authorities.

    Right-wing politicians have been known to attribute mass shootings to other factors than guns. The Florida high school shooting isn’t the only incident of its kind in which Republicans have pointed to mental health as a potential precursor for these types of violent acts.

    The New York Times reported in November last year, President Trump labeled the Texas church shooting that left 26 people dead  “a mental health problem at the highest level.” The 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in which Adam Lanza killed 28 people, was also attributed to his mental health.

    But if mental health was attributable to mass shootings, as Trump and other Republicans claim, then Americans would also have more mental health problems than people in countries that have significantly fewer mass shootings. But, according to The New York Times, the mental health spending care in the U.S. isn’t anomalous when compared to that of other wealthy countries.

    I was born and raised in Sweden where it’s illegal for civilians to possess and carry firearms. There are only a few very specific and heavily regulated exceptions to the law that apply to licensed hunters and sport shooting professionals. Everything gun related in Sweden is regulated by the federal law enforcement agency.

    “To me and many other Swedes, it seems crystal clear and obvious that the presence of guns also increases gun violence,” said junior Isabella Giotis, an international student at California Lutheran University from Stockholm, Sweden.

    A study cited in a New York Times article found that mental health problems are attributable to only four percent of all gun deaths in America. In a research analysis published in a journal called Violence and Gender, Columbia University psychiatrist Michael Stone, who maintains a database of U.S. mass shooters, found that only 52 of the 235 mass shooters in the database had some form of mental illness, which is equivalent to about 22 percent.

    “Every time there is a mass shooting in America, it spurs a debate about the perpetrator. Was he mentally ill? Was he Muslim? Was he black?” Giotis said. “If the perpetrators were of Muslim faith, we hear from gun advocates that it’s not a gun control issue, rather it’s a radical Islamist issue.”

    Even though it’s important to consider the mental health of these gunmen, it’s also vital to recognize that only a small percentage of mass shooters are mentally ill. In the study posted by the New York Times, there was a correlation between a country’s rate of gun ownership and the odds it would experience a mass shooting.

    “Never have I heard any students or teachers even talk about the possibility of this happening in a Swedish school,” Giotis said. “I haven’t really needed to consider this when living in Sweden because it wasn’t the reality of my surroundings.”

    Maybe we haven’t been forced to face the possibility of potentially being victimized by a mass shooter because of the gun laws that we have in Sweden. With few guns and strictly imposed regulations there have been few gun related deaths, so nothing ever inclined us to consider school shootings or mass shootings a societal issue.

    We were lucky enough to grow up in a country where mass school shootings weren’t part of the reality in which we lived, and it saddens me to know the students who were victimized in the Florida high school massacre have never known a reality without them.

    Julia Westman