After a massacre like Sandy Hook, it’s easy to declare that the shooter was a “lunatic,” in order to make sense of an incomprehensible human act. Just like it’s easy to attribute terrorism to the “fundamental evil” of a culture, rather than a backlash against our country’s own imperialism.
The problem with both of these explanations is a lack of deeper thinking about our society that in the latter case increases our national xenophobia and in the former stokes our fear of and ignorance about people with mental illness. It’s important to note that scientific studies do not support a significant link between mass violence and mental illness. The fact that we are all capable of such atrocities (evidenced most strikingly in histories of genocide) is too scary for most people to deal with, so instead we accept simplistic stories about why someone could’ve done such a thing.
No diagnosis of mental illness has been reported for Sandy Hook shooter Adam Lanza, but the assumption has circulated among the public and officials since the Dec. 14 massacre. Michigan congressman Mike Rogers, for instance, argued that the country doesn’t need stricter gun control in general but does need it for people with mental illness. Not long after the tragedy, I spoke with mental health advocates about the harmful effects of this sort of rhetoric and how we could better respond to violence. Read the story here: Sandy Hook increases stigma around mental illness