Senator Roy Blunt from Missouri yesterday published an editorial in USA Today lamenting President Obama’s lack of movement on mental health legislation after the Sandy Hook Elementary School tragedy.
And while Senator’s Blunts concerns are perhaps well-intentioned, his invocation of Sandy Hook in relation to “mental health” is about as tenuous a connection one could make about two, largely unrelated subjects.
Because in his editorial, Senator Blunt glosses over one inconvenient fact — Sandy Hook’s perpetrator, Adam Lanza, had no diagnosed mental disorder, nor was he apparently ever seen by a mental health professional outside of school for specific learning-related issues.
Here’s where Senator Blunt, who you’d think would be more careful about regurgitating opinion as though it were fact, makes the connection:
In Newtown, Adam Lanza’s mother identified and expressed deep concerns surrounding her son’s mental health before he brutally murdered her and 26 other innocent people. Yet as Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen rightly noted last month, “even if miraculously enacted, the (president’s gun control) bill would not have stopped 20-year-old Adam Lanza from his murderous rampage at Sandy Hook Elementary School.”
While parents are indeed good sources of information for their children, Lanza was hardly a child any longer at age 20. And Lanza’s mom was not a professional making an official diagnosis. While Lanza had a history of “sensory integration disorder,” it’s not an official or well-accepted, or well-defined diagnosis. And some thought Lanza maybe had Asperger’s syndrome, but again was never diagnosed with it.
“It’s very important for people to know that there is absolutely no correlation between the diagnosis of Asperger’s syndrome and a predilection toward violent behavior,” said Dr. Harold Schwartz, chief psychiatrist at the Institute of Living.
Blunt also holds up James Holmes’ rampage at the University of Colorado as another example. Yet Holmes’ was being seen by a mental health professional! How could he have gotten any better help to have prevented that tragedy? The answer is that he couldn’t have, because he was already being treated for his mental health concerns. Should the government overrule a mental health professional’s own judgment and experience when dealing with a patient they have concerns about?
I hope we don’t start substituting laws for human judgment, because we’ve seen what a tragedy that has resulted in within our current justice and prison system.
Senator Blunt points out that President Obama’s legislation likely wouldn’t have made a difference in the tragedy. Yet miraculously, Senator Blunt can foretell that his legislation, on the other hand, would have.
Yet in reading through his legislation, I see no reason to suspect it would have made an iota of difference in any of these tragedies.
That’s because these tragedies, by their very nature and definition, are one-offs. They cannot be solved by new laws, new policing, or funding alone. They are the consequence by a complex interaction of variables in each person’s environment, and each lawmakers’ approach addresses only one variable in this equation.
That leaves the other variables untouched — with the result likely leading to the same outcome.
The editorial is largely a self-serving piece meant to advertise the senator’s own efforts. And while I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised to have seen it published in the popular press, I am disappointed that the senator used the opportunity to once again politicize such tragedies in the name of mental health funding. It lowers the quality of our discourse.
The one thing I can agree with the senator on, however, is his closing sentence:
I will continue to encourage Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to allow stand-alone votes on mental health legislation, and I hope President Obama will work with members from both parties to improve our nation’s policies before another mental health crisis results in senseless loss.
Senators and legislatures need to understand one-off acts of violence will never be solved through new laws and funding alone. We cannot target people who are shy, socially-awkward, loners, or kids with Asperger’s syndrome. We cannot paint groups of ordinary citizens with one discriminatory and prejudicial brush.
These acts of violence will continue to occur in any society where access to the instruments of violence are so readily available, and any effort to curb the most egregious instruments is met with ostrich-like resistance.
Read the editorial: Roy Blunt: No more delay on mental health
The complex personality and life of Adam Lanza: A complicated picture of Adam Lanza and his first victim