A Letter to the NRA from a Citizen of the U.S. with a Severe Mental Illness

A Letter to the NRA from a Citizen of the U.S. with a Severe Mental Illness December 22, 2012

[Editor’s Note (Kurt Willems) – The following was written by a close personal friend. He has chosen to be anonymous, for reasons explained in this letter. While I may not agree/understand every nuance of his argument, I believe the “spirit” of what he says is important for this national discussion. I’m not one to get too political (at least in a partisan way), so don’t read this as an automatic endorsement of the “Left,” either. Please read and share!]

To Wayne LaPierre and the NRA:

I believe in a person’s right to “Bear Arms.” I come from a family of farmers, hunters, and soldiers who have used guns as tools, some of whom are in the NRA.  But, the speech that Wayne LaPierre gave was quite frankly insane and I hope that gun owners and non-gun owners everywhere are able to recognize it.  I should know, I can smell insanity from a long way off because I am, “One of those unknown number of genuine monsters… that walk among us every day,” as you so eloquently described people with mental illness. Simultaneously, you called for stripping my rights and chided the national government for not creating an  “active National Database of the mentally ill.”

I have a severe mental disorder and people like Wayne LaPierre make me afraid to identify myself publicly.  I’ll be generous and call them “misinformed.” Yet, the irony here is that the NRA fights for its desired freedom, while actively working to limit the freedoms of other Americans – even the mentally ill (not to mention, the poor, marginalized, and other citizens of the US).

Speaking out as one who is mentally ill, I disavow any attempt for people in the NRA to destroy the gains of people with disabilities, in order to justify a “national database.” This, along with resisting the freedom of public healthcare, creates a situation where the mentally ill have no option but to remain in the shadows.

Many in the NRA would have the audacity to support wars in foreign lands where civilians, women, and children get killed on a regular basis, while calling for an end to so-called “entitlement programs” that enable the mentally ill to get the help that we need. We are not “Monsters,” and while I know little about the young man who committed this act of terror, this sort of proposal that you (LaPierre) spoke of, does little to prevent severely ill people from having access to guns in the first place. A database is not the answer. Government funded preventative care that doesn’t alienate the mentally ill, however, can make a real difference. Every day that the NRA’s constituents promote status quo approaches to preventive care, the odds increase that another mass shooting, like the sad situation at Newtown, might occur again.

I am not a monster and neither are my fellow brothers and sisters with mental illness.  We are human beings and citizens of this county with all of the rights you claim to defend with your guns, LaPierre.  Where does your proposal to create an “active National Database of the mentally ill” end? Isn’t it odd that most of the mass shooters in this county have been white males? Why don’t we create a national registry of White Men and track them?  Then, I’d be in two national registries.

I don’t write you (Mr. LaPierre and the NRA) as an expert. I’m neither a Supreme Court Justice nor a Constitutional Scholar, so I will not try to argue about the intention of the founding fathers when they wrote the 2nd Amendment over two hundred years ago.  It states,

“A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed. “

No one can really know what our founding fathers thought about the weapons the Shooter used to end the lives of 20 young children, 6 courageous educators, and his mother.  If he had a flint lock riffle as part of a “well regulated Militia,” I doubt he would of stood a chance against those women and children.

Rather than an expert, I write as a person who is part of a group that contains ¼ of the citizens of this country.  We walk among you every day with a diagnosable mental illness. Interestingly, if you had done your homework, you would realize that 38 states already have mental health registries. Some people with mental illness are already registered, while others resist help because of such registries and the stigma they create – especially if they are being pushed by a gun rights agenda by the very people calling us “monsters.” Your proposal, therefore, doesn’t make sense because even with such a registry, NRA advocates have pushed so many loopholes that I can still go to a gun show and purchase a weapon, even though I’m in such a state database. Your proposal and the general political positions of NRA advocates are inconsistent.

Wayne LaPierre, how far will you and your organization go, how ludicrous will your speeches become, before you and the people you claim to speak for realize what much of the world already knows? Your speech did not serve the best interest of gun owners, children, or anyone else. The worn-out arguments that you are hoping to implement that prevent any changes to current gun laws will even further expose the leadership of the NRA as completely out of touch with the general consensus of the American public.

So I ask the supporters of the NRA to not infringe on my God-given right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness by creating even more fear and stigma for those who are mentally ill. I hope that there is a quiet rebellion in the NRA, because I believe most gun owners are responsible and reasonable people who want a safe world for their children.  The current leadership of the NRA wishes to deflect any attention from guns, while shifting blame to the mentally ill, all to prevent any safe changes from happening in this nation. They want us to live in a world of fear.

I wrote this letter to begin a fight against my fears. There is a chance my future children will inherit my mental disorder and I hope to leave them a more just, safe, and peaceful world than the one I inherited. I hope they will live in a society were all of us can come together to create a world where fear loses and love wins.

I pray in this Holiday Season that each of us as individuals, families, and communities will spend time examining our beliefs surrounding violence in this country.  As a citizen of this county I can no longer stand the frequency of violence and unjust death.  I hope that many years from now we can look at this tragedy as a turning point in our history.


A Concerned Citizen with a Mental Illness

Here is the video of the speech and the text version:

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  • Shari

    Thanks for sharing this perspective. What would it take to be classified with a mental illness – specific medications? As writer points out this idea is ludicrous on so many levels not least of which is loopholes. How about we give the NRA a database – for all registered gun owners. By the way why apologize for being “political” when pushing for such common sense solutions to problems in our society.

  • Guest

    Thank you for writing this, it was very brave and eloquent. As another person with serious mental illness, I understand and agree with all you said. I, too, fight my fears, sometimes I hide, sometimes I can speak for many who can’t. The NRA went so far over the top and is so very, very wrong. We need people like us to stand and make our voices heard.

  • I am a former public school teacher, college professor, doctoral student, mother of three college students, and I live with bipolar disorder. I am not now, nor have I ever been a danger to myself or others. In fact, because I take such good care of my mental health, I am in better mental health than most people I know. When will the stigma and shaming end? Hurting people hurt people. We need to focus on reducing the glorification of violence in our society and on providing better access to health care of all types. Only then will our children be safe.

  • RobS

    A tough topic like this would need to have both sides coming together for discussion to work towards a common end-goal (to reduce the violence that is possible, etc). Although he quotes the “1/4 of the citizens of this country” statistic, that number usually refers to those that suffer from mental illness in a given year. I can say I likely qualified for mood disorders early this year, but the other 36 years of my life (& currently) are much improved. Severe illness is stated closer to 6% of the population.

    Also, is the goal one of discrimination, or acknowledgement that my physical condition limits me to keep my behavior or access to equipment/tools within a certain scope? It sounds like the writer is aware of his situation and deals with it in a mature way, but others are not cognitive of it or mature about controlling it.

    For example, I experience extreme dizziness and vertigo. I voluntarily give up my rights to drive a car for the greater good during those times. I understand I have a drivers license, but if I exercise that right while sick, I put myself, my passengers, and the general population at risk. But if someone had the vertigo I have and did not voluntarily give up that right, I would sure want some oversight to their action.

    Again, this dialogue needs to be continued with the goal of not stripping rights away from lawful (mental illness or not) citizens, but to continue to work on steps to take away the risk that events like this happen. All that said, LaPierre’s comments did not cover the depth needed to make this happen. I doubt his speaking at the time was even a wise thing.

    • AmyS

      For insurance purposes, the bar for “severe” mental illness is quite low–basically, any diagnosed disorder in the current DSM (with the exception of V codes, which include such things as “parent-child relational problem”). Where is your 6% stat coming from? Far more people are identified with DSM diagnoses than that.

      And, there is an important distinction to be made between mental illness and criminality. Some people who commit crimes also have mental illnesses. Some people diagnosed with mental illnesses also commit crimes. Neither group encompasses the other.

      But don’t get me wrong, I voluntarily give up my so-called right to own and use a firearm, with or without a mental illness or vertigo or anything else.

      • RobS

        Hi Amy. NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) suggested “Even though mental illness is widespread in the population, the main burden of illness is concentrated in a much smaller proportion-about 6 percent, or 1 in 17 Americans-who live with a serious mental illness. The National Institute of Mental Health reports that One in four adults-approximately 57.7 million Americans-experience a mental health disorder in a given year”

        The same group (albeit, in September 2006) did a study finding 45% to 64% of inmates had symptoms of severe mental illness. I know the statistics don’t tell the whole story, but it does seems that there may be a higher correlation among those incarcerated than those in the general population (assuming the 6% or even the 25% numbers are accurate). Certainly, there’s not a clear functional relationship, but there may be a positive correlation. I had a bipolar roommate who was perfectly safe and comfortable while pistol shooting at paper targets years ago (for example).

        I think many people would voluntarily give up the right to own a firearm. Politicians often want to show they’re in control and taking action and I’m just afraid they’re going to hand us a “ban” of some kind that really does nothing. Neither the politicos or NRA is going to ultimately fix this problem I’m afraid.

  • It is not that I worry what a person with a mental disorder will do I worry more what our sanctimonious law enforcement will do! As I was raised by parents who both worked in Law Enforcement I’ve seen that their fear and arrogance controls our streets today not the “Serve and Protect” of years past! Yes there is a reason for caution yet forgetting our rights is not how it’s done Once law enforcement can distinguish this a start!

  • I didn’t see LaPierre’s speech, but I read the transcript. I have to agree that the general idea that protecting students with police officers is probably wise. I don’t agree with a national database of the mentally ill.

    I might agree with a database of those already shown to be dangerously mentally ill, but the database would have to be confidential, so that it could be used for continuing treatment, not to further stigmatize. Some people become dangerous when they go off their medicine, and the lesser of two evils would be to check up on them so they could keep taking their medicines and continue to function in society.

    Unfortunately, America does more stigmatizing than healing when it comes to mental illness, and I think that is a tragedy. Even when it doesn’t end in violence, it often leads to reduced quality of life and reduced opportunity for those with mental illnesses.

    We will continue to have a mental health crisis in this country until our reaction to those people who have mental illness is not to gossip, but to extend the same compassion as we extend to those with “physical” illnesses like cancer, and the same dignity we extend to those with “physical” disabilities like hearing impairments.

    • AmyS

      Do you work in mental health?

  • Bill S

    Wayne LaPierre is an idiot. He came up with every solution but the right one, a ban on assault weapons.

  • mynameisanon

    As a person with BPD, PTSD and Panic Disorder, I would not give myself a gun. All it takes is too much pressure for too long and there you have it. The fact is that most M.I. people do not have access to adequate healthcare and therefore cannot take good care of themselves. Half the time I’m struggling with the people that I have to see at the clinic to give me the medication that I so desperately need.If I had a husband and a family and a decent income then I might not have to rely on Medicaid doctors as so many of us do.

  • Marla Abe

    When I went to seminary, I was still suffering from PTSD. I thought I might need to put myself on a list that would allow professors to give me some grace if I needed it. A friend there warned me this designation would follow me the rest of my life, even when I was healed. Lists like this serve little purpose.

  • CatholicDadof3

    This is a carefully orchestrated psy op against the American people: http://www.catholicintl.com/index.php/latest-news/1129–further-evidence-shows-sandy-hook-was-staged