Sometimes, people are just mentally unstable, and no amount of gentle language, hearts, flowers and rainbows will bring them back to the land of the sane.
Such is the case with Elliott Rodger, a 22-year-old Santa Barbara, Calif., man. Rodger killed five people recently in a violent rampage. He killed three people in his apartment, shot two women outside of a sorority house and killed another man inside a deli before turning a gun on himself.
The event and the deaths he caused are tragic, devastating even. Less tragic but twice as irritating will be the blame game followed by the political calls to “do something” in Rodger’s wake.
We’ve seen this song-and-dance before in the face of a lone weirdo exacting vengeance or seeking attention. We saw it in Newtown, Conn. We witnessed months of finger-pointing after Jared Loughner shot former Congresswoman Gabby Giffords.
Immediately after those shootings, there were immediate calls to ban certain kinds of guns and limit the number of rounds individuals can buy or register guns.
In a noted exception to the typical political response, Johnson County lawmakers responded perfectly in the face of our own tragedy. When a gunman opened fire at a Jewish Community Center in Overland Park, lawmakers offered prayers and condolences and the promise of support to those affected. Notably absent were calls to disarm the general populace.
Here in the land of beige houses and common sense, Johnson Countians recognize that guns and ammo weren’t to blame for the actions of F. Glenn Miller, the white supremacist charged in the deaths of three people in April. Miller is accused — not the weapon he used.
California lawmakers aren’t quite following Kansas’ example for responding to community tragedy. However, politicos in California are actually talking about solutions instead of the traditional calls to disarm everyone.
One California Democratic lawmaker, state Senate Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, is suggesting the state increase its efforts to identify people who may be a threat to themselves or others. Steinberg spoke to the California legislature after the shootings. He noted what appeared to be a link between mass shootings and mental health. Steinberg’s first instinct wasn’t to try to wrestle guns from the fingers of sane, law-abiding citizens. That is a major, major win for gun-rights advocates.
The narrative is changing — from guns kill people, to what causes people to kill people. The gun debate isn’t going away, but finally the guns-are-bad-all-of-the-time people appear to be shifting their focus.
The demands to take guns away from people like me — a sane, law-abiding citizen — are fading. Instead, the calls are to limit gun access for people who are mentally unstable.
Steinberg is proposing that the state provide money to train special law enforcement interventionists to identify violent people. It’s not a perfect solution but it’s not a bad starting place. And by that I mean, guns or access to guns aren’t the problem. Identifying mental illness and managing it is.
Steinberg’s starting place still puts too much emphasis on guns. His informal proposal would create a state computer record-keeping system that police could use to determine whether a suspected mentally ill person had attempted to or actually purchased firearms. This may have helped in Rodger’s case, but a potential database is a no-no for most gun rights advocates.
Nothing good can come from a database of gun purchasers. Still, I’m happy that Steinberg and others are acknowledging that just maybe, the link between these mass murderers is mental illness — and not guns.
There may be things we can learn from the Rodger’s shooting about the warning signs of mental instability and how to best address those signs when we see them. The political discourse suggesting that mass murderers are created by America’s access to guns is shriveling.
By the way, limiting Rodgers’ access to guns would not have saved half of his victims. They were stabbed.
It appears even the most strident gun control advocates are beginning to see that light. Sometimes, sick people are just sick.
Freelance columnist Danedri Herbert writes in this space once a month.