Tag Archive: guns


Putting Out a Candle With a Pistol Shot

The Slow Mo Guys challenge each other to see who can be the first to shoot out a candle flame with an air pistol.

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Everyone is talking about the guns laws in this country in the wake of yesterday’s tragedy. We need more gun control, I’ll concede that. However, that wouldn’t have prevented the deaths in Connecticut. Much less discussed, though, is this: WHY IS IT SO HARD TO GET MENTAL HEALTH CARE IN THIS COUNTRY?

My good friend, let’s call him “George,” had an emotional crisis last year. The reasons for his breakdown are not important here; what is important was that he knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that he needed help. That if he didn’t get help that very night, he was going to kill himself. George doesn’t have health insurance, but he is well-off enough that he could pay cash out of pocket for his care.

George called every hospital in the county. No one would admit him. He had to commit a crime or try to harm himself first. Desperate, he reached out to his sister, who is a psychologist. As a very private person, this was understandably difficult for him to do. She was able to use her professional resources and contacts, and got him admitted to a ward that night. He spent two weeks there getting his head back on straight.

Of course, that involved more pharmaceuticals and less psychotherapy, but that’s how it is now. At least he was able to get help. If not for his sister, he’d be gone today.

John Gardner, the kidnapper, rapist, and killer of Amber Dubois and Chelsea King, not long before murdering Chelsea, had told a psychiatrist that he was in danger of hurting himself or others, but the shrink just sent him home with more medicine. Five days later, John went on a suicidal binge of methamphetamine and other illicit drugs, which landed him in the emergency room. He said, “I will kill, I know I will. I am the type that needs to be locked up forever. I am an animal.”

In May of 2000, when Gardner was 21, he pleaded guilty to two counts of lewd and lascivious acts and one count of false imprisonment. But a forensic psychiatrist said Gardner “does not suffer from a psychotic disorder. He is simply a bad guy who is inordinately interested in young girls.” Gardner was a “danger to the community” but would not benefit from sexual offender treatment because he took no responsibility for his actions.

Gardner spent five years in prison. In 2003 he was placed in a prison mental health facility because he was a threat to himself and others. The next year he was talking about killing correctional officers. He also said he wanted to kill his attorney and the judge who sentenced him. He had a psychotic break. Yet he completed parole in 2008, despite several term violations.

During parole, he was considered a “moderate-low risk sex offender — a group that has a 12.8 percent chance of reoffending in five years.” Forensic psychiatrist Mark Kalish argued that the court in the 2000 case did have the information to foresee the two killings. After all, a psychiatrist had told the judge that Gardner would be a continued danger to underage girls in the community.

The recipe for creating a monster is a complex mix of genetic and environmental risk factors — including addiction, alcoholism, physical abuse, mental illness, social disorders, a rotating series of father figures, repeated moves from house to house, financial instability, molestation, and incest.

If we can eliminate or at least lessen the stigma attached to mental illness, and make access to mental health care as easy to obtain as access to guns, we might, just might, be able to reduce the frequency of these mass shootings.

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