The Making of a Scapegoat

I am the father of four children and the grandfather, so far, of four grandchildren. They are the world to me, and each time I see the image of a parent’s anguished face outside a school – or anywhere else – wondering whether her child is still inside, whether he is alive or dead, my heart breaks. At Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School the number of dead was 17. At Sandy Hook Elementary School it was 28. At Virginia Tech it was 33. At the Las Vegas concert it was 59. The United States has more mass shootings than any other country on earth. There have been 18 school shootings this year, which is only seven weeks old. Three of the 10 deadliest shootings in our history have come in the last five months.

As I read the news stories, another thought keeps entering my mind: please, let the perpetrator not be an immigrant, not be a Muslim, not be a member of a group we can scapegoat. I wonder why the ethnicity, the religion, the status of the shooter should matter? It will make little difference to the parents and the families of the dead.

But we have so politicized the tragedy of mass murder that we can’t even come together as a country to mourn.

And, of course, no one politicizes it like the gun-control advocates who come out in force after each one of these events.

“Can the Left let the families grieve for even 24 hours before they push their anti-gun and anti-gunowner agenda?” tweeted Tomi Lahren of Fox News. “My goodness. This isn’t about a gun it’s about another lunatic.”

So who are these native-born, heavily armed white men who have killed so many? They are, we are told by the President, the Vice President, Senators and Congressmen, the “mentally ill.”

Although they can’t pass healthcare legislation, our political leaders are somehow able to make a psychiatric determination without the benefit of either medical training or personal contact with the patient.

I wonder, then, is there a particular diagnosis? Or is it just mental illness in general? Because that includes a lot of people: about 1 in 5 Americans experiences mental illness each year.

And if all mass murderers, except illegal immigrants and terrorists, are by definition mentally ill, does that mean that all those who are mentally ill are potential mass murderers? Or do you only know after the fact?

And does it mean that, while many gun dealers can’t do background checks on gun buyers, they must now conduct psychiatric evaluations?

Be careful on this slippery slope, for we have in this country a troubling history of incarcerating the mentally ill. We have a government that is now rolling back health coverage for mental illness. And we have a president who says nothing about treating the mentally ill but tells us, instead, that we are supposed to report them “again and again!”

We do not need another scapegoat. We need to stop stigmatizing the mentally ill. We need to provide them more and better coverage and care. And we need to stop performing verbal contortions to avoid even mentioning the obvious: that in every mass shooting, dating back to Howard Barton Unruh’s “Walk of Death” through Camden, New Jersey, in 1949, the killer carried and used at least one legally purchased gun.

James G. Blaine

About James G. Blaine

Most of us undervalue what seem our tiny contributions to our communities and the world. As a result, we feel powerless, even victimized. But, like the butterfly effect in science, the lives we lead with our families, in our communities, and at work – all the so-called little things we do – collectively change the world. As I grow older, my ambition grows more modest but not less important: to participate fully and to contribute what I can. That’s my goal with this blog.