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The Death Dance

Are mass shooters mentally ill? Could "red flag" laws stop them?

After every mass shooting there is the predictable dance between the political left and right. The left demands stricter gun laws while the right offers “thoughts and prayers”. Both sides say they are trying, but they cannot agree on the solution.

Meanwhile, more shootings. More tragedy. More fear. More death.

For most Democrats, the issue is guns; or at least the proliferation of military grade weapons such as AK-47s and AR-15s. Democrats want them controlled effectively before the next mass shooting takes the lives of more innocent people.

For Republicans, the issue is mental health. They are certain there must be some mental issue with someone who commits these atrocities; thus, their focus is on identifying those with mental illness and keeping guns out of their hands. (Of course, that way they don’t cross swords with the National Rifle Association (NRA), which has contributed millions to their campaigns. It's an easy out.)

But what if both sides are right? What if the obsessive need for such weaponry is in itself a form of mental illness?

According to the American Psychiatric Association, one in five Americans experience some form of mental illness in their lifetime, with one in 24 being diagnosed with a serious mental illness. Could an obsession with guns be in itself a form of mental illness? Could their fixation on a specific section of the Second Amendment be another form, as well as their belief that some government power is “coming for your guns”?

Each of these is an identifiable form of a specific mental illness.

Many mass shooters have hoarded many firearms. The Las Vegas shooteramassed huge amounts of guns and ammunition, yet this raised no red flags from hotel personnel as he brought them to his room. Could he have been suffering from obsessive compulsive disorder in his need to have so many weapons?

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is defined as “a pattern of unreasonable thoughts or fears (obsessions) that lead you to do repetitive behaviors (compulsions)”. The obsession with firearms and the compulsion to buy a seemingly endless supply certainly fits this definition.

Having an unhealthy fixation, such as those who focus only on a specific section of the Second Amendment is also a form of OCD, identified as a fixation disorder. Like religious zealots, who cherry-pick certain sections of their canon, those with fixation disorder use a limited interpretation of an issue to justify their overall stance.

In feeding the oft repeated claim that “____ is coming for your guns”, the NRA is targeting those with paranoid personality disorder. These individuals can also have elements of OCD and will latch on to conspiracy theories about government overreach in interfering with what they believe are their Constitutional rights. The NRA is only too happy to fuel this to further their pro-gun agenda.

If both sides agree, this could FINALLY be the breakthrough that will lead to meaningful gun control legislation. Identifying an obsessive need for firearms as a mental illness will satisfy the mental health advocates, while keeping guns out of their hands would appease gun control proponents. That’s really where the “red flag” legislation now before Congress comes in.

Could this be the solution we are seeking? It would at least be a start.

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