Oliver: Mental Illness Rarely Kills People. Guns Often Do.

Photo: Mike Coppola/ Getty Images.
When Americans use guns to unnecessarily kill their fellow humans, politicians (especially pro-gun ones) are quick to frame the issue as being about mental health. On Sunday night, John Oliver called them on their misleading and counterproductive bluff.

“The aftermath of a mass shooting might actually be the worst time to talk about mental health,” the host of HBO’s Last Week Tonight With John Oliver said, just several days after a gunman shot and killed nine on an Oregon community college campus.

"The vast majority of mentally ill people are nonviolent and the vast majority of gun violence is committed by non-mentally-ill people," Oliver said. "In fact, mentally ill people are far likelier to be the victims of violence rather than the perpetrators."
The chorus of Republicans running for President, however, was quick to frame the issue as one of mental health (not one about guns). Here's a sampling:

“No matter what you do, guns, no guns, it doesn’t matter,” Donald Trump said on Meet the Press on Sunday. “You have people that are mentally ill. And they’re gonna come through the cracks.”

“We know that most of these people are mentally deranged, so do we need to do a better job in mental health? You bet we do,” former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee said on CNN after criticizing the media for discussing the shooter too much.

“The issue is the mentality of these of these people. And we need to be looking at the mentality of these individuals and seeing if there are any early warning clues that we can gather that will help us as a society to be able to identify these people ahead of time,” Ben Carson — a former neurosurgeon — told Hugh Hewitt. "

President Obama, in his heartfelt speech after the shootings, pointed out the fallacy in this framing.

“It’s fair to say that anybody who does this has a sickness in their minds, regardless of what they think their motivations may be. But we are not the only country on Earth that has people with mental illnesses...we are the only advanced country on earth that sees these kinds of mass shootings every few months.” Obama said.

We do not know yet whether Harper-Mercer was mentally ill. His mother believed he was.

Oliver and Obama’s shared perspective neither depends on nor ignores what might have afflicted the shooter. They believe that we need to stop using mental illness as a convenient decoy for a much bigger problem, the one that caused the 45th school shooting in the United States this year.

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