America’s Killing Fields

After 17 people were shot dead with an assault rifle in Florida, Republicans had two major responses: Don't politicize this. And it is not about guns, it is about mental illness.

In a rational world, it would get harder and harder to sidestep the matter of why some disturbed kid who cannot legally buy a beer can legally buy an assault rifle, which is designed for the sole purpose of mass carnage. But in this bizarro world of the Trump administration, any bullshit you can think up to explain a situation like that will do just fine.

But let us break the bullshit down. One, politics have a direct impact on all of us, which is why we are so invested in them. The ideas politicians and voters wrestle over have to do with how people are treated, who we are as a nation and what is important to us, and it is always a good time to talk about these things. The idea that maybe assault rifles should not be sold to anybody, especially someone with a long list of serious mental health problems, is not just political warfare. It is a real issue with the sort of impact on American lives that is leaving kids brutally murdered in schools.

The mental illness argument has two problems. One, it risks stigmatizing all mentally ill people as potentially murderous, which is not true, fair or helpful. I am mentioning that one dutifully, but the second problem interests me more: Republicans’ decision to concentrate on the shooter’s mental health problems is utterly a ridiculous argument for a party that has shown little to no interest in mental health care for Americans.

Republicans spent much of 2017 trying to dismantle President Obama’s Affordable Health Care Act, which insured 20 million people in seven years, according to the New York Times. That is health care that provides access to mental health services to people who might not otherwise have it.

President Trump is proposing a 2019 budget that would reduce funding for substance abuse and mental health by $665 million, along with a half a billion dollar decrease in funding for the National Institute of Mental Health, according to NPR

Also, many health plans nationwide cover very little for mental health services, prioritizing them far below other health concerns. This makes it prohibitively expensive for many Americans to get the help they need. The fact that it is not prioritized not only makes it hard to access quality care, but it also reinforces the stigmas. People do not seek help if they have the idea what they are experiencing is shameful, or that others think it is.

The matter of gun control and mental health is not about politics per se, it is about caring for people. It is about caring for your own rather than allowing children to be slaughtered, one after the other, school after school, like sitting ducks. The president and congress should not just visit Parkland, Fl., they should have to tour it, and witness the aftermath of the carnage. They should be forced to view police closeups of the blood smears and body parts. They need to be as close as possible to the reality of what a legally-sold assault rifle does at close range to the bodies of American kids. 

The subject Trump in particular never really seems to address is his own personal influence on people like Nikolas Cruz, who was a bigot linked to white supremacist groups. Trump is not responsible for what Cruz did, but his campaign and election has emboldened racists like Cruz; his comments in the face of this uptick in public racism have continued to welcome it into the public sphere. Republicans’ unconscionable stances on gun control and mental health are one matter, but add to that Trump’s permissiveness for national racism and bigotry, and you have one terrible, deadly problem for which there will be no solution proposed, or even a serious conversation.

It is just that time for change.