American entertainment is steeped in gun violence. Most young men who spend hours playing first person shooter games and watching endless gun violence in movies and television will never hurt anyone. But it is reasonable to wonder whether this menu of mayhem is distorted into implied permission by unsteady minds, particularly those without the guiding hand of a father at home.
Twenty-first century America prizes fame indiscriminately -- to the point that the word infamy must soon disappear. We have no use for the idea it expresses. Elliott Spitzer, John McCain, Paris Hilton, Bill Gates, Aaron Alexis -- they all belong to the famous club. It doesn't matter what they did to gain admission.
Shoot a lot of innocent people and you are guaranteed to enter the club. You may die in the act, but everyone will know your name.
We have betrayed the mentally ill by drastically reducing the availability of treatment. America has roughly 5 percent of the psychiatric beds it had in the late 1950s. When Aaron Alexis called police in Rhode Island last month and complained that he had moved to three different hotel rooms in a single night to elude the "voices" in his head and the "people who were sending vibrations to his body" with a "microwave machine," he ought to have been taken to a psych unit for evaluation. Instead, police told him to avoid the "people" who were bothering him and went on their way.
Like many states, Rhode Island has only a fraction of the beds it needs for psychiatric cases. That's why the mentally ill comprise 400,000 of the nation's 2.2 million prison inmates. That's why they account for one third of the nation's homeless. That's why the number of mass shootings continues to climb. In many states, even if the family members of paranoid schizophrenics beg police and medical authorities to commit someone for short-term evaluation and treatment, civil commitment laws forbid it.
With modern drugs and "Assisted Outpatient Treatment" as championed by the Treatment Advocacy Center, long-term commitment for the mentally ill is not necessary. A few simple reforms of involuntary commitment laws and mental health treatment could relieve a great deal of unnecessary suffering and avoid more awful tragedies.
Alternatively, we can continue our sterile and irrelevant gun control spitting match.
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