What I want to talk about today is mental illness and guns. I am going to categorically state right here whether you agree with me or not, that nobody with a serious mental illness has any business owning any guns. I also fully believe that nobody else other than a law enforcement officer, if necessary, or a military person, if necessary, needs to own a gun. At all, ever. I couldn't care less about the goddamn 2nd Amendment. Guns are for killing. Automatic weapons are quite decidedly for killing. Guns that are made to shoot dozens of people in three minutes do not belong in anyone's hands. They don't belong in my hands and they don't belong in your hands, and they certainly do not belong in the hands of James Holmes who shot 70 people in a movie theater, in Aurora, Colorado last week.
I know a little bit about guns and mental illness. It isn't yet "proven" that James Holmes has a mental illness. The pundits debate whether he will "fake" a mental illness to defend himself and get away with the murders he supposedly committed in order to become famous. But I believe James Holmes, a 24 year old bright student, is likely an individual suffering from Schizophrenia. Call him evil if you like, but I believe he has a disease like mine, and I'm not evil, and I don't kill people. Untreated Schizophrenia can lead to suicide, homicide, homelessness, drug and alcohol addiction and lifelong torment. Those of us who get treatment know it doesn't have to be that way, but not all of us get treatment. I am guessing James Holmes was not getting treatment, otherwise he would have been justifiably locked inside a hospital and not out shooting people dressed up like the Joker from the Batman movies and comic books. Delusion of reference? Most likely.
What I know about guns and mental illness is what it is like to purchase one with a mental illness that you intend to use to blow your brains out of your tortured head. And that is what I did in 2005.
You don't even have to believe me. I've got some of my medical records.
DATE OF ADMISSION: 5/20/2005CHIEF COMPLAINT: "I just wanted to die".
IDENTIFYING DATA: The patient is a 30 year old Caucasian female who apparently has a history of schizophrenia, paranoid type, with schizoaffective disorder, major depressive type, who was admitted for suicidal ideations with a plan.
It goes on to describe the patient believing she was pregnant for over a year, despite all negative pregnancy tests, the patient not wanting to take psychiatric medications, the patient, "probably joined Scientology", and the patient having not had sex in some time despite believing she was pregnant.
"The patient after that is having significant feelings of guilt and loss of esteem feeling that she cannot live like this anymore and she looked around for a way of committing suicide from internet and from reading books. She found that, the State of Florida, they do not check the background of mental healthcare or the mental illnesses before obtaining a gun. Since she found that, she bought a handgun and it was fully loaded. She was thinking about pulling the trigger. In the meantime she called her brother and expressed concern that she was not doing well and felt that she has abdominal cramps and so she was taken to (blank hospital) emergency room where then later the police were called and the patient was Baker Acted.......The patient stated that, by having a gun, it is likely that she will be successful in her attempt at an overdose, which has also been her backup plan.She also has some religious preoccupation, believes that she is Jesus."
These are some of my discharge summary notes when I was being transferred from one hospital to a longer term unit at another one. It was my longest hospital stay. It was the one that saved my life. It was when I was put on Risperdal and when I met my case manager, who is still my case manager today, and when somebody finally, finally told me what mental illness I had. It was my beginning.
James Holmes won't have a beginning, most likely. Just like the lives that he so horribly stole, his is gone too now. Lost to a system of underfunded mental health services, and a society loaded with stigma about mental illness and overflowing with loaded guns easily available to purchase any time. Over 8,400 people die in the US from gunshots every year. When will enough be enough already? When will it be time to start ADEQUATELY FUNDING COMMUNITY MENTAL HEALTH CENTERS and to start taking away assault rifles? Let me ask you, how many innocent people will die before our country will make that happen.
I can tell you how easy it is to by a gun. You walk into a store, and you fill out a form, and you pay money, and three days later they hand it to you. I had been in psych hospitals about 15 times before I bought a gun. I never intended to hurt anyone, ever, but myself, but why should I have been allowed to shoot my head off? I almost did. I held it loaded in my mouth. If it wasn't for the police taking me away in handcuffs, I would be dead right now.
But I am not dead. I am here to tell you there is hope. There is recovery. You can get better, better enough to go to college, better enough to work, better enough to volunteer, better enough to serve on boards, better enough to go to the doctor when you need to and to the therapist when you need to, better enough to never want to die, better enough to have a very healthy fear of guns. Maybe not totally better. I can't say I am doing great right now. But I am not a 30 year old Caucasian female with a GAF score of 21-30 right now like I was in 2005. I am a hell of a lot better. And I am never going back to that life.
My hope is that, someday, we will be able to talk openly about mental illness, the way we talk about dental problems, diabetes, heart disease, amputated limbs, and other health issues. Because a brain disease is not the same thing as being evil. It's easy to chalk these horrific crimes up to someone being a subhuman evil alien unlike the rest of us "good people". It's too easy. That's a cop-out. This guy is a human being, and it is our responsibility to manage this society so that all human beings, everywhere, can be safe.