Yes, LaPierre, Let’s talk about armed guards and a Mentally Ill Database

“The Bushmaster is not an assault weapon, it is a hunting rifle suitable for hunting small game such as squirrels.”

“Let’s get rid of all gun laws.”

“We don’t have a gun problem, we have a people problem.”

“What we really need to do is get a mental illness database, round up all the mentally disturbed people.”

“The real problem is that these shooters are going places – schools that are filled with defenseless women with defenseless kids. We need more aggressive armed men in schools.”

These are just some of the  more appallingly ridiculous statements I’ve heard this week in regards to the Sandyhook mass shootings. Predictably, instead of showing a willingness to acknowledge that a proliferation of assault weapons and high capacity clips results in the ability to kill lots of people in a short amount of time, the pro gun rights bunch are so focused on their belief in a perceived right to bear arms (what next, nukes?) that they are willing to deprive a large swath of the rest of the population – people with mental health disorders, women who work in public education and, yes, even children, of their constitutional rights.

In my office, on my desk I have a thick manual, called the Diagnostic Statistical Manual, Fourth Edition. Contained within its pages are hundreds of different mental health disorders. None of these disorders have high predictability for mass murder. Mass murder, in fact, is very low frequency. In point of fact, there is no consistent disorder or disorders that has been pinpointed to occur among mass murderers. Asperger’s, Schizophrenia, Depression, and Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, among others have been mentioned.

I have had many conversations with gun owners who are fervent believers in depriving those who they consider “mentally ill” of gun rights, of privacy rights, of freedom. Until I mention that that would, of course, include substance abuse and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, in which case they develop new respect for the rights of the mentally ill, because, of course, I have hit on their own personal disorders. In fact, the combination of guns, PTSD and substance abuse is responsible for more violence than schizophrenia.

As a scientist/practitioner I am interested in action based on statistics. What do the statistics show? Mass murder is highest when access to assault weapons and high capacity gun clips is easiest. Mass murderers are overwhelmingly male. Arming more aggressive men does not prevent mass murder – Fort Hood was awash in armed aggressive men, there were two armed guards at Columbine. Depriving individuals with mental health disorders of their HIPPA and constitutional rights will not prevent mass murder – neither Columbine nor Sandyhook weapons were purchased by the killers.

My husband loves the natural logic that follows from the above, which is – men should not be allowed to have guns.

One final thought. If, as the gun rights folks propose, we should identify and prevent those with mental health disorders from having access to guns, how and who will be in charge of that? At point of sale? Mental health professionals? I for one, as a psychologist, will volunteer. Frankly, it is the guy with the Bushmaster and the pathological fear of squirrels, the assault weapon hoarder I’m worried about. My only question is – what am I to do about the police officers I work with, who through the normal course of their duties, develop PTSD?


Grandpa Cookies


A quarter century, beginning when my oldest daughter was two, we’ve made these cookies for Grandpa’s birthday, which falls one week before Christmas. To the best of my memory we’ve never missed a year and we’ve never delivered them in person. They may or may not arrive on time, but they always arrive. Made from a recipe from Great Grandma’s Better Homes and Gardens cookbook with Grandma’s suit of cards and Christmas cookie cutters, added to by Mom and daughters – shark, dog bone, acorn, unicorn.

The importance of the cookies is the interaction, a mother and daughter production for the family patriarch. And, so, there are no photographs, other than a fuzzy photo second production year and one this year, bookends of each daughter. Traditions, you see, like children change over time. Aspiration never trumps priorities and practicalities dictated, this year, one daughter one night and the other, the next.

I don’t keep notes of who, what, how or why. I know one year one daughter was in Belgium, the next she asked me to postpone cookie making until Christmas break. One year one daughter had a date on Cookie Day, which was broken, not by her. Every cookie heart she stabbed with a knife.

Grandpa will be 88 this year. He has been “terminally ill” for six or eight years with ALS. Every year on Cookie Day I tell my daughters that this may be the last time we make cookies for him. Saying this has become part of the cookie making and thus, also tradition. My younger daughter saying she no longer believes it is irrelevant.

As for Grandpa, he still loves his ginger cookies.


Don’t touch the gate

It is the expectations I find difficult. It has been some years since I have had my family “home” for Christmas. And by family, I mean my husband and two daughters, no extras. I have been trumped by my ex-husband who, having remarried a younger woman, had a child and will soon have another. Everyone assumes that my daughters should spend Christmas with his family. My daughters think I should still put up a Christmas tree. My husband thinks we shouldn’t bother. How many people need to be present before one puts up a tree, especially if the one responsible for hauling the tree in hates the process and two others will be 700 miles away? Can I hang ornaments from the chandeliers and decorate every flat surface to compensate?  The last few years have felt ill-defined.

This year I announced we should fly to California to see his son and granddaughter, which we have never done before at Christmas and will make me feel useless and out of place. One child, not mine, plenty of rules, also not mine and no job to do.

This week I received an invitation from the pastor of my church (a place I haven’t been in a couple years) to speak to a group of LGBTs.  What I felt was something roughly analogous to what a Border Collie must feel when the gate is opened and he is whistled up to work. It’s not so much the work ethic as the appreciation for direction.

We watched a tribute to Johnny Carson the other night, how he would fully engage an audience while leaning back, as though he was holding them at bay. I understand this. In my personal relationships I must fully engage so we can be fully ourselves. In front of an audience I must fully engage my topic so that I can stand apart. Middle grounds are awkward, family visits, social occasions, the approach after a talk, for example, when I may think I have closed the gate and am standing on one side “them” on the other and “they” think the gate is part way open, slide on through before I can whistle up the herding dogs to gather them back. And there I am, before I know, trying to sort out what role I’m playing professional or personal. If I were your mechanic would you ask me out for coffee? If I, as mother-in-law, were a plumber, would I find myself bringing a wrench on visits to fix your plumbing?