Tell me if you've heard this one before:
Irish guy moved from Dublin to Oklahoma to be with his wife, finds himself totally disgusted with the quality of meat products there, so he buys an AR-15 so he can go out hunting and kill his own.
If you haven't, then this week's episode of You Don't Have to Yell is for you.
Based on most of the conversations I've had with people from Europe about American gun culture, the availability of guns in this country makes about as much sense as our adherence to a system of measurement where we still measure things in pecks and bushels, so I had to get David's take after moving to a state recently ranked as 6th most gun friendly by Guns and Ammo Magazine. Call it a hunch, but I figured someone who moved from a country with 7.2 guns per person to a place where the barriers to carrying a concealed weapon are lower than owning a Honda Civic would have a few things to say.
What interested me right off the bat - aside from his total disgust for American food - was how quick he was to blame much of the violence we see in this country on a combination of cultural pressures with the poor state of mental health services.
Aside from having more guns than people in this country, the United States stands out as having one of the most self-reliant, individualistic cultures in the world. From my perspective, the same fearless spirit that lead people to leave the comfort of their homes for a new land with the idea they could be a better version of themselves has made us one of the most dynamic and innovative economies in the world.
While the sense that we're ultimately in control of our destiny is a net positive for America, it also puts a large amount of pressure on the individual and a stigma attached with asking for help. Author Ronald Wright put it best when he wrote, "Socialism never took root in America because the poor see themselves not as an exploited proletariat, but as temporarily embarrassed millionaires."
There's some data to back up this claim as well. In a study done by Northwestern University in 2010, it showed people with a genetic pre-disposition to depression and anxiety were far less likely to experience either disorder if they lived in collectivist societies that value contribution to a group/family unit, as opposed to more individualistic societies such as the United States.
If we look at crime statistics in the United States overall, we see a high correlation between mental illness and interaction with the criminal justice system. A report by Mental Health America showed over half of those in incarceration suffer from some sort of mental health disorder, with 6 out of the 10 states with the least access to mental health care having the highest rate of incarceration.
Zooming in on gun violence specifically, the trend continues. The majority of gun deaths are suicides, which can be directly linked to mental health, and FBI data on mass shootings - a small but much talked about occurrence - show that the vast majority of shooters had been struggling with some sort of mental health issue prior to their attack.
Effectively, we're a society that relies on the criminal justice system to handle the messes created by out failure to treat mental health, and easy access to firearms makes this situation far more lethal.
The real problem with our debate, in my estimation, is that we have a bunch of people who don’t know anything about guns talking about gun control, and a bunch of people with no interest in funding mental health talking about mental health. Maybe if we decided to throw our weight into something we can agree on, we’d see greater progress.
We'll be covering this in the next episode.
(You can listen to the latest episode via the link below, or on Spotify, iTunes, or wherever else you happen to get your podcasts.)