Sunday, July 22, 2012

Guns, Mental Illness, and the Aurora, CO Shooting

Last night my husband read me an article about some of the latest findings about some of the latest findings about James Holmes, the alleged perpetrator of the Aurora, Colorado shooting. His behavior with police has been haphazard (shooting people and then peacefully surrendering to police, booby trapping his apartment and then warning police about it, etc.). People talked about how Holmes was so quiet, spending a great deal of time playing alternate reality games online, that they never would have suspected he could do something like that. Apparently, he started planning the shooting months ago, around the time his stressful final exams started. There are accounts that talk of him sitting in his jail cell even now still pretending to be the Joker. Once again, the focus has turned to stricter gun regulations.

If I may say so, it sounds to me like Holmes may be suffering from a severe mental illness, possibly schizophrenia. This is something I am pretty familiar with since my mother exhibits many of the symptoms of schizophrenia. I really think we are doing ourselves a disservice when we focus on guns as the problem. I know intimately how someone whose mind is very disturbed and bent on destruction will turn to anything they can find to carry out that destruction. Once, when I was about 12 or 13, my brother and sister and I were sitting with my mother in a traffic jam. I think we were trying to get somewhere on time and were running late. Sometimes even seemingly small things would really set her off, and this time seemed to be one of those. She took her own hands and started to try to choke herself and we had to stop her. It didn't take a gun for my mom to exercise her destructive tendencies. When I was 10 I was shaken badly for forgetting to put the clothes in the dryer. Whenever the subject of her getting some help came up, my mother would often deal with it by threatening suicide and going for the knives in the kitchen. And this is pretty mild compared to what some people have experienced. When I was at BYU, I had a fantastic choir teacher who gave us an assignment to do something out of our comfort zone once every semester. One time he related the story of a girl in his class who had watched her schizophrenic brother murder her entire family. She volunteered at the state mental institution helping to care for other people with schizophrenia to getout of her comfort zone. I consider myself very, very lucky.

I am truly sorry for the losses in Aurora, Colorado. I feel a great deal of sorrow for the victims. But I also feel sorrow for James Holmes and the disturbed mental state that he has been suffering from, just as I feel sorrow for my mother. So I hope you'll forgive me if I don't jump on the "ban guns" bandwagon as a cure for violent crimes committed by the mentally ill. In order to reduce those, we have to do a lot of harder things like delving into the violent mind, examining media content and exposure, exploring new and maybe even unconventional therapies, and finding ways to help families function better and cope with mental illness.

Whoa. My last couple of blog posts have been pretty heavy. I promise there will be some more lighthearted stuff coming soon. But thanks for reading. =)


  1. I completely agree, having stricter gun policies will not help in situations like these.

  2. I agree with you that gun laws will not help in these situations. There's been a picture going around on Facebook that partially sums up what I've been feeling. it says "tell me more about how criminals follow laws." However, lest that quote offend you, I don't agree with how it labels the mentally ill as criminals.