A layperson would say that anyone who attacks a school is mentally ill. A certified psychologist would give a more nuanced answer—sweeping generalizations are rarely completely true—but would ultimately tell you that there is a clear link between mass shootings and mental illness. And the United States is mentally ill.

This mental illness combined with widespread gun availability has resulted in the mass shooting crisis we see today. Critics of gun control are quick to say that the solution to this crisis is to improve mental health—but how can you police the mental health of an entire country? Plus, the mental health system is underequipped as it is; it's in no position to rehabilitate an entire country.

The mass shooting crisis may be a mental health problem, but improving mental health isn't a practical solution. Instead, let's decrease the availability of guns—and avoid a saturated mental health system and a national thought police.

Never Again Memorial
A makeshift memorial outside Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School for the students that were killed there in a recent mass shooting. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

It's also important not to criminalize mental illness. If being mentally ill suddenly limited one's rights substantially, those in need would be far less likely to seek help themselves—and national enforcement would become necessary.

We have a saturated mental health system

The American mental health system is strained enough as it is. In January 2018, Minnesota Public Radio published a detailed account of the difficulties its mental health system experiences:

Mental health workers say the treatment system has gaping holes at the "front door" and the "back door."

The "front door" is where people go when they have a mental health crisis, often a hospital emergency room.

"At any given time, we could have five of our 16 emergency room bays occupied by long-term behavioral health patients that are waiting to be placed somewhere," said Joy Johnson, vice president of operations at Sanford Health in Bemidji. "We don't really staff our ER to have permanent overnight three-, four-day stays with behavioral health patients because that's not what it's designed for."

Those patients are stuck in the emergency room because there are no open beds at facilities that could treat them.

At the "back door" of the mental health care system, workers say there is not enough housing for people released from a hospital or other facility that still need monitoring and support. Without that support, people can soon face another crisis requiring hospitalization.

Minnesota has six 16-bed behavioral health hospitals. People from across the state also go to the Anoka Regional Treatment Center, and there are a mix of regional public and private facilities.

Sure, we have a mental health crisis on our hands—but our mental health system is in no position to help. If the goal is to save lives, more pragmatic solutions exist.

We don't want a national thought police

The NRA calls itself "freedom's safest place"—but I can imagine few things more threatening to civil liberties as a national "mental health" thought police. Instead of simply decreasing the availability of high powered weapons, the NRA suggests that we monitor our population for those who exhibit signs of mental instability and take away their guns.

According to this logic, instead of limiting guns, we should instead limit minds. Tell me again that this is "freedom's safest place"?


Perhaps solving the mental health issue (without criminalizing it by means of a national thought police) is a long-term solution to the mass shooting crisis, but we're working in the short-term. People kill people with guns—and it's a lot more practical to take away the guns than it is to take away the people.

Sure, the second amendment exists—but also consider the preamble.


Cover image: "Mental Health" from Pixabay, labeled for noncommercial reuse.