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Mass Shootings and 'Crazy People'

If you listen to the recent televised discussions on mass shootings, you would think that those of us with serious mental-health diagnoses are responsible for most of the tragic shootings that occur in this country.
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Who knew that "crazy people" were such a problem!

The late neurologist Oliver Sacks, who passed away on Sunday, enriched all of our lives by showing in exquisite prose that people with severe neurological and psychiatric disorders not only have deficits; many of us have beautiful gifts.

With his extraordinary compassion and insight, Sacks understood that his patients were individuals and that each had his or her own idiosyncratic trajectory. Some of his patients were able to transmute what seemed like a curse into a blessing.

And yet if you listen to the recent televised discussions on mass shootings, you would think that those of us with serious mental-health diagnoses are responsible for most of the tragic shootings that occur in this country.

I have been listening and not listening for days to the talking heads in the wake of the murders of Alison Parker and Adam Ward, two young and promising broadcasters, based in Roanoke, Virginia. As we all know, they were gunned down by Vester Flanagan, a disgruntled former colleague at WDBJ.

As I wrote in my last piece, "Trump l'oeil, Virginia Tragedy Edition," Donald Trump, Republican presidential contender and wannabe mental-health pundit, said, in reference to the mass shootings in our country, and with his customary elegance and cluelessness, "It's not a gun problem; it's a mental problem."

Jeb Bush, another Republican presidential candidate, said recently that no new gun laws should be passed.

The NRA has weighed in, indicating that we should try to eliminate the "emotion" from the debate.

All of these responses by the right-wing establishment have been predictable and do not help us solve the problem that we have roughly 300 million guns in this country, nearly one per person, a shocking total for a developed nation.

More to the point, almost anyone can obtain these guns, not only at gun shows or gun stores, but also over the Internet.

Andy Parker, father of the late Alison Parker, has also weighed in on the debate. He has been interviewed regularly on CNN and by press around the world since the tragic death of his daughter.

This morning, September 2, he told Carol Costello on CNN that people in Europe don't really "get it" when he talks to them. As Andy Parker said, "We don't have the market cornered on people with mental illness, but we do have the market cornered on people with mental illness" who have easy access to guns.

During his interview with Costello, Andy Parker also referred to people with mental illness as "crazy people."

I have compassion for Parker. His daughter's life was cut short by an evil man. As was the life of Adam Ward.

Where I disagree with Parker is when he blames all of these shootings on people with mental illness.

Vester Flanagan was many things, but he was not mentally ill.

Flanagan was a poor journalist, who was reprimanded for his shoddy performance as a broadcaster. He was a former model, who liked to preen. He blamed his problems at work and elsewhere on the jealousies of others and on the fact that he was black and gay, rather than look deeply inside himself at his own contribution to his problems.

But more than anything else, Flanagan had a rage problem. He meticulously planned his "social media murder." And after he had committed it, he showed zero remorse. He went so far as to urge people to go to Facebook so that they could see the murders he had just carried out.

Flanagan obviously craved attention; he wanted to be a celebrity, to gain his Warhol-esque 15 minutes of fame.

As I have written for years now, a person who plans violent crimes for which he shows no remorse is not mentally ill; he is an evil person.

And, yes, evil exists.

As I have pointed out in numerous columns, evil has been with us since the beginning of time or the Fall of Man, depending on one's beliefs.

And evil will be with us until the end of time too.

The vast majority of violent crimes are committed by evil people, angry people, violent people, not people with mental illness.

What Andy Parker has to understand is that those with severe mental illness, but no substance abuse problems, commit only three percent to four percent of violent crime in this country.

Moreover, as Lindsay Holmes of HuffPost reminded everyone today in a piece on myths regarding mental illness, people who suffer from severe psychiatric disorders are more likely to be the victims than the perpetrators of violent crime.

And when people with a severe mental illness are in treatment, we are no more of a threat to anyone than people who do not have a diagnosis.

So, call us "crazy," if you must.

I have come to accept that word. As Mickey Rourke, channeling Charles Bukowski, said in Bar Fly: "Some people never go crazy; what truly boring lives they must lead."

We will always have crazy people like me, like the late Oliver Sacks' patients, people who have suffered unbearable trauma not only to our brains but also to our souls.

It is people like me, like Sacks' patients, like the late Robin Williams and Brian Wilson, as I wrote in my last piece, who often benefit the planet with our unique perspectives and imagination.

Yes, some people with mental illness commit violent crimes. But violent crimes and mass shootings are primarily committed by people with a rage problem -- disgruntled, angry, evil people, like Vester Flanagan.

And they will always be with us.

That we cannot change. It is the dark side of humanity.

But we can change our gun laws if our politicians have the courage to write and pass the legislation.

Call me "crazy," but won't those politicians, even if they are voted out of office, still get generous health benefits, pensions and jobs as lobbyists or, yes, TV pundits?

Maybe, we need not only fewer guns; we also need fewer gutless politicians.

And maybe we need more "crazy people" urging those politicians to do the right thing and pass gun-control measures.