Friday, February 15, 2008

God is a bullet

I've been thinking about the latest school shootings, the ones at NIU, most of today and here is what I've come up with.

It's important to remember that yes these shootings are horrible and horrific and awful for all the people involved, but people in Iraq and Afghanistan and the Palestinian people in Israel get shot and killed like this every day. It's just as horrible and horrific and awful that their lives are cut down by our troops and Blackwater and the Israeli army. A life is a life is a life, no matter if it's an Iraqi or an Afghan or an American college student who gets gunned down. Murder is murder no matter where it happens and for whatever reason. That whole "Thou sahll not kill" extends to everyone, no matter if they are Christian or Muslim or atheist.
It looks like the kid who did the shooting had mental problems and he did this when he went off his meds. I have no idea what kind of insurance the kid's family had or what those meds cost him but I'd be willing to be they were expensive and the high cost of those meds played a part in why he stopped taking them.

It's a shame that we don't put a person's mental health on the same plane that we put their physical health because as this case shows, and others like it have shown, it's more important in some cases to make sure the person is mentally healthy rather than physically healthy. We have always placed a stigma on mental problems in this country and we usually ostracize people who seek out help and we do the same when we find out someone has had mental health help in the past, I know for a fact that this is true because I saw how differently people treated my late father and my late sister when they found out they both had been treated for severe mental illness.

Instead of putting more money into helping the mentally ill for the past thirty years our government has done the cowardly thing and cut the funding because who's going to raise a hue and cry about the nut jobs losing a few million dollars in help? They've stolen that money that could have helped that poor kid and they've given it to big business so that they can sell us useless widgets and trinkets.

So while the shooter has to take some blame for what happened, we also need to blame our state and federal governments for cutting the funding for programs that could have saved the shooter and all his victims.

You know and I know the police in that area did the best job they could have done when they responded to this situation. I admire the police at times like these because they put their lives on the line to help stop more death and destruction.

Now I'm sure some asshat from the National Review or FOX Noise will scream, "Why didn't those college boys stop that kid? Why, hell if I had been there I'd have taken that gun away from that kid and I would have snapped his neck for doing that shit." And of course when they say shit like that it's obvious that they've never been shot at and they have no clue what they're talking about.

The impulse to save one's own life over saving others at a time like that is overwhelming. It's not sad or wrong or bad that you would hide under a desk or jump behind a door and let a shooter shoot and kill others, it's human nature. If a person pulled a gun on you and you had the chance to duck as they shot, you'd do it.

I've been shot at twice in my life. The first time was when I was 14 Cousin Psycho was about 400 yards away from me, I was standing outside the trailer we lived in at the time and he was across a field and on the other side of a creek, when he shot a .22 rifle at me. The bullet hit the side of the trailer and it just missed me by about a foot. I was so shocked that he shot at me that I ducked as soon as it hit. (To show you what a dysfunctional family I was in at the time I was the one who got into trouble in this incident because Aunt Rageaholic and Uncle Adultery, Cousin Psycho's mother and father, praised their son for admitting he shot at me and they got mad at me for being a tattletale when I told them it was their son who shot at me and hit their trailer.)

The second time was when I was in my early twenties and I was still in college. I was out in a seedy nightclub with a friend from college and my Cousin Skank, she is Cousin Psycho's sister. We were all well lit and we were having a grand ol' time. Then out of the blue some guy pulled a pistol from his coat and hit shot the wall near where I was standing. For a split second I thought it was a cap gun but when I saw the hole in the wall I yelled at my friend and my cousin to come with me and I ran out of there as fast as I could. I did not help them follow me, nor did I wrestle the gun from the shooters hand, my self preservation instinct took over and I ran the fuck out. And you'd do the same thing if you were ever shot at.

We're not going to magically become a less violent society because we get sick of these school shootings so what can we do to stop them?

Well, as far as I can tell if we enacted and enforced gun laws like they have in the UK, Canada, Japan, Germany, France, and Italy then we'd have far less incidents like this one at NIU. It's seems pretty cut and dried to me.

We need to close the loophole that lets people buy guns at gun shows with out having o go through a background check. We need to raise taxes on guns and ammo so that they stay out of the hands of people who are unstable or dumb enough to do something like this for whatever twisted glory they may get. And finally we need to stop kowtowing to the NRA and we need to stop letting them write gun legislation.

I think of this song every time there is a shooting. My heart goes out to all the parents and to all the people who've been killed by guns the world over.


Wandering Coyote said...

Additionally, we need to do something about the culture of violence we live in, and stop the glorification of violence in our media and entertainment. Gun control is absolutely necessary, but changing attitudes about all kinds of violence is also key.

As for the mental health issues...God, it's so complicated. I also heard on the news that this guy had stopped taking his medications. Yet I also keep hearing about how well-educated and highly skilled he was as well. This speaks to not only the stigma issue, but the issue of mental illness as largely invisible disability, though one just as devastating as, say, losing the use of your limbs. I am well-educated, highly skilled, generally high functioning, yet have a history of severe mental illness. You see a schizophrenic on the street talking to himself and looking generally nutty and you get it. You look at me and you SEE nothing wrong with me and you wonder why I don't work or why I disappear every once in a while for weeks at a time - because I'm SICK, I get HOSPITALIZED, I get MEDICATED, I even get fucking ECT. Yet because I visibly LOOK OK, I must BE OK, right? WRONG.

If this guy stopped taking meds due to lack of money, then once more we have an instance of US government culpability for not providing affordable health care to those who need it most. I take 4 psychiatric meds and they must cost upwards of $200 if not more per month. Because I have a history of severe mental illness, I am considered "disabled" and my drugs are paid for - thank God. I would not be writing this comment otherwise, I can tell you that. Other therapies including hospitalization are part of what what's covered under my publicly funded health care program - and again, if it were otherwise, I would not be writing this comment. I wonder...but really don't want to know in a lot of ways...just how many untreated mentally ill people are wandering around your country.

Sorry to rant like this...It's an issue close to my heart.

Great post, Dr. Monkey.

Mnmom said...

Excellent points all around Dr. M. Before his death, Sen. Paul Wellstone had created a bipartisan bill called the Mental Health Parity Bill which would require insurance cos to treat mental illness the same way they treat physical illness - no limits, no restriction, etc.

Aren't you glad your Congress is busy chasing Roger Clemens instead of addressing issues like this? Call your Rep and ask where that bill went, and will they introduce it again in light of recent events?

I worked with adults with mental illness, and there is one more loop hole and that's the patient's rights. Psychiatric clients have the right to refuse meds. 99.9% of them will be "crazy" but not violent. It's a long and difficult road to get someone committed, and even then the best the hospital can do is treat em and street em. As I'm sure you know from personal experience.

My God, mental illness is a tragedy of such enormous magnitude.

GETkristiLOVE said...

Good post Dr. Monkey. We're still suffering the backlash from Columbine in this state. It's a very long healing process, no matter if it's here or on foreign soil.

But can you imagine if the press humanized each and every killing over in Iraq, like they do here with these type of shootings?

Johnny Yen said...

I'm with Wandering Coyote. Canada has about the same rate of gun ownership as we have here, yet a tiny fraction of the murder rate. There's something about our culture.

Kim and I had Bubs and Mizbubs over a few weeks ago and Bubs and I were talking about guns. He made the point that if the gun laws on the books were enforced, it would go a long way toward reducing gun violence. He said that the courts frequently release people picked up on firearms violations.

Karen said...

I'm all for gun control as well but it seems that as soon as someone brings up the topic and tries to propose new stricter laws, the NRA and a bunch of gun toting freaks get up in arms (literally) and start quoting the constitution. I have huge doubts that today's society and it's gun loving/violence obsessed culture is what the founding fathers had in mind.

Great post Dr. M and equally great points by all :)

Bubs said...

Great post Doctor!

I am of the opinion that, as a cop, a HUGE percentage of our calls for service are a direct or indirect result of lack of effective mental health care. Do you know the single largest provider of mental health services in Illinois, maybe even in the whole midwest?

It's Cook County Jail.

The mental health issue is paramount, but it's not just conservative budget-cutters to blame. Equally culpable were liberal activists who viewed long-term hospitalization of the mentally ill as tantamount to imprisonment, and they fought long and hard to get people out of big institutions (like Elgin, and Chicago Read) and into "community-based" care programs.

They got the crazies released, and then conservatives never funded the community-based care that was supposed to happen. It was the worst possible confluence of bad politics.

When de-institutionalization became popular in the late 70's/early 80's it resulted in literally thousands of previously-hospitalized severely disturbed people being dumped into the streets of cities like Chicago. When schizophrenics act out and bash people's heads in with bricks, they end up in the criminal justice system. They go on meds, they stay locked up long enough to be traumatized some more, they get a lighter sentence because they're crazy, then they get dumped back on the streets with no support network, they go off their meds, and they act out again, and go back in the criminal justice system, ad infinitum.

Bubs said...

Ah, one more point, re: gun control. All the legislation in the world does no good if you don't enforce the laws you already have. I think the key lies in greater resources directed at enforcement of existing laws in more aggressive and innovative ways.

If I recall, I think it was Richmond Virginia that started a joint local/state/federal approach to gun crime in the late 90's, aimed at making sure that felons with guns got locked up, and it was very successful.

Wandering Coyote said...

Slappy, you are so missing the point.

FranIAm said...

Talk about cowards... It is not you, not that you needed me to remind you of this Dr. Monkey.

Anyway- you have written beautifully and eloquently as always.

I am ever touched by your family stories and this one is no exception.

As someone who was raised in a violent household with guns, I am committed to getting them out of the wrong hands. Which is most hands.

You are a hero and I knew when this happened that I would find a moving post here Dr. You have exceeded any expectation of what I might find.

Crayons said...

Dr. M.
This is an excellent analysis of the shooting and of the context in which it occured. Keep raising your eloquent voice. I almost always agree with your rants, and I always come away having learned something.

C.J. said...

Excellent, excellent post Dr. M. I am practically speechless...(which doesn't happen often).

Mathman6293 said...

Excellent point about saving your skin when presented with potential death because people that are willing to shoot at others like they're Gunny's watermelons on Mail Call are willing to die already.

Micgar said...

Hi Monkey-I agree with you about the lack of good comprehensive treatment for the mentally ill in our country. Ever since Reagan started privatizing health care we have seemed to be on this downward slide toward less care for the mentally ill and that trend hasn't been reversed since. We had a guy here in ABQ who was mentally ill shoot and kill 5 people here 3 years ago, and it was seemingly because the guy was not given the proper care and the correct meds for him to stay well. He wanted appointments to see Dr's but was refused or brushed off. So he got worse and worse and went out and killed 5 total strangers. I am not so sure that gun control will help(I am for it-especially with regards to people obtaining asaault rifles and those who are mentally ill of course)but because some of the shooters have been those are not mentally ill (or haven't been id'd as such) they have purchased weapons legally and then in a fit of anger or rage, go crazy and kill people or their families.
It is so sad because it seems to be happening more and more. And yes, people need to remember that it is on a much much smaller scale when compared to the killing being done in Iraq. Lets put it in perspective- I agree.

Little Merry Sunshine said...

Another problem, in addition to the high costs of medications (and that's a problem that can be controlled) is that for a lot of people with mental illness, when they start feeling good, they stop taking their meds because they believe they don't need them. And then they spiral horribly downward. Hopefully, there is a safety net (e.g., family, friends, medical professional) there to catch them, but not always.

One thing that I don't ever see addressed is that I don't believe any of these drug companies REALLY know how the meds will react. It's fine and good to say that Effexor (anti-depressant) works on its own with few side effects. But what about when Effexor is combined with other drugs for other issues? No drug company can possibly test all the drug combinations to know with 100% certainty that Effexor and Zocor and Temazipam and Tylenol are all safe together (or whatever drug cocktail someone is taking).

My mom has suffered from mental illness for most of my life and it's terrifying to watch and to be part of. The stigma is horrible, not just for the person with the illness, but also for their family members.

Wandering Coyote said...

LMS: good point. I take Effexor combined with Remeron, Imovane, and Seroquel. While Effexor and Remeron are complimentary drugs (look up California Rocket Fuel) and I've had no bad reactions with the other drugs I mentioned, who knows? Every cocktail is different, and every individual is different, so it would be impossible to know 100%. But I have to trust my doctor, and I believe that it's imperative - if it's available to you - that you see a specialist as opposed to a GP for mental health issues. GPs generally aren't as knowledgeable about at psychiatric medications and they tend to be conservative about how they prescribe.

Little Merry Sunshine said...

Wandering Coyote,

I agree with you completely about seeing mental health specialists vs. GPs for mental health issues.

Here's an article from They interviewed (exclusively) the girlfriend of the shooter. She says he went off his meds because they made him feel like a zombie. From my experience with my mom and the two times I took anti-depressents for a short while, I can completely understand that sentiment. Anti-depressents made me numb. Luckily, in working with mental health pros, I was ultimately able to work through my issues and I no longer need them. Unfortunately, for many people, that's not an option.

Here's the link. It was fascinating.

libhom said...

You are correct about the need to better deal with mental health. Kudos for your call for gun control.

I wonder if the war on Iraq is causing people to think in more violent scenarios.

Liberality said...

late to the party but here goes...
1. I think when the fuck is my university going to be next
followed by
2. I hope this shit never happens where I live
followed by
3. Chris Rock said it best, bullets should cost $5000.00 a piece!!! then people wouldn't be so ready to shoot those bullets now would they?

Wandering Coyote said...

LMS: Thanks for the link. It is very interesting to get the girlfriend's point of view.

I have terrible fatigue on the drugs I take. I frequently feel like a zombie. But it feels better than extreme depression.

Mauigirl said...

Great post, Dr. Monkey. And it's a shame the shooter decided to go off his medications because they made him feel like a zombie...surely there must be a drug combination he could have taken that wouldn't give him that feeling. It just goes to show that better follow-up is needed, and that the current system of medicating mental illness on an outpatient basis allows people to fall through the cracks who should get continued care.