Men With Autism Are Not the Killers, They Are the Victims

We are not particularly interested in wading into the gun debate that has been raging in the U.S. for as long as I can remember. Autism is our family's primary issue. But guns are an autism issue.
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Guns, god and abortion are three issues I rarely argue about any more because it's a waste of time. If people are in agreement about any of those, they're preaching to their own choirs. As for those with opposite views, have you ever had an argument about GG&A that changed opinions -- either theirs or your own?

So we are not particularly interested in wading into the gun debate that has been raging in the U.S. for as long as I can remember. Autism is our family's primary issue.

But guns are an autism issue.

And no, I am not referring to the twisted and increasingly predictable cry of, "Did he have autism?!" that we hear after our daily dose of mass shootings. Wrongly scapegoating people with autism has become routine. (See Andrew Solomon's New York Times op-ed of Oct. 12 for a clear-eyed look at this.)

Our concern comes from the other end of the pistol.

Our son, Ben, has severe autism, is 22 years old, and lives at a residential program in a different town from us.

During a visit with Ben, I was taking care of something in the lobby of our hotel while Karen, Ben's mom, headed to the elevator with the big guy.

As Karen describes it:

We were waiting for the elevator and Ben was pacing around happily like he usually does. We were in room 207 on the second floor, and the door to Room 107 was ajar. I looked away from Ben for a moment just as he pushed open the door to 107 and started to go in. He was either just curious or thought it was our room. At the same time, a man -- he looked to be around 70 -- was walking down the hall and saw Ben going into what was apparently his room. The man became agitated and ran down the hall yelling, 'Hey, don't go in there!' I quickly offered, 'I'm sorry, he's disabled, he's no threat,' which didn't seem to calm the man down as I ran to get Ben out of the doorway. When I faced the door I could see a woman, probably the man's wife, lightly pushing Ben out. Ben was being gentle about the whole thing. She and Ben both had smiles on their faces -- she could see that Ben wasn't a threat. The man hadn't seen that.

End of incident, no big deal, right? It was a routine occurrence in the life and times of our big Benny boy, and no harm done.

Except I couldn't help thinking about Mohammad Usman Chaudhry. Or David Levi Dehmann. Or Steven Eugene Washington. Or... the nauseating litany of men wrongly killed due in large part to their autism grows longer almost by the day. Google those names, or try "man with autism killed by police," if you have the time. You'll need plenty because there are plenty of guys exactly like Ben who have been killed by clueless people, law enforcement or otherwise. More cops are being trained and taught about autism and these tragedies still happen with depressing frequency.

Citizens are not being trained and in fact are increasingly worried that "autistics" are dangerous by nature. And many of these citizens are armed.

Ben is six feet, three inches tall, acts irrationally, and can seem threatening, especially to someone unaware of his condition. He can't effectively communicate with strangers.

And he is always unarmed. Ben is not a significant threat to anyone in the world.

The man in Room 107 saw Ben differently -- a big man sneaking into the hotel room his wife was in.

What if the man had had a gun on him? What if his wife hadn't realized Ben was harmless, and screamed? What if she herself had been armed?

What would you have done?

For Ben and his cohorts in autism, an armed world is a more dangerous world.

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