After another inexplicable act of violence in Parkland Florida claimed 17 lives, the usual chorus (and some of the not so usual chorus) is screaming for gun control. We don’t need gun control; we need nut control.
With the first one constructed in 1773, our country has a history of building and maintaining mental hospitals. In 1955, the United States had more than 100 mental hospitals with a population of over 560,000 people.
The U.S. population in 1955 was around 165 million. Today, with a population around 323 million, we can safely assume more than 1 million people would be institutionalized by 1955 standards.
Where are these millions of people who should be in mental hospitals? Living in our communities, wandering the streets while arguing with imaginary figures, or in prison having been declared to be insane, but competent after having committed a crime.
Many purportedly smart people run around decrying inanimate objects for causing death and mayhem. Our streets, schools, workplaces have become killing grounds because any lunatic can get his hands on a gun (or guns) and carry out a massacre. But a closer inspection of the headlines reveals a myriad of machete attacks, people pushed into oncoming subway cars, a man holed up in a bunker, and ex-cop on a bloody rampage—and who can forget the bath salts man who cannibalized a man on the streets of Miami? And so it goes with each bizarre and horrible story replaced by the next stupefying act of insanity.
Why is this happening? Guns? We’ve had guns for centuries.
The real and ignored reason is a policy called “deinstitutionalization,” which is a fancy way of saying “let’s close the mental hospitals to save money.”
Like most bad ideas sprouted in the 1960s, poor judgment coupled with the fever of the civil rights movement thought it would be a good idea to give crazy people “rights” and let them live in the community. Now, 60 years later and “off their meds,” they terrorize their families and hold entire communities hostage. In an earlier, “less enlightened” time they would have been committed and cared for in a mental hospital at the taxpayers expense. People like the Parkland shooter, the Sandy Hook shooter, the Arizona Congresswoman shooter, the Denver theater shooter (dressed like the Joker no less) would have all been put away a long time ago. The homeless, who self-medicate with booze and illegal drugs, the machete killers, the subway pushers all would have been brooding from within the confines of their local mental institution.
Closing the mental hospitals was a particularly cruel idea. The notion that people with raging mental illnesses could be medicated and set loose upon the streets and in our communities is insane in its own right. This is an arrangement from which no one benefits. How does such a thing happen?
It is simple. The fiscal “conservatives” of that day saw a way to cut the expenses of operating large mental institutions. They made common cause with the Left of that time because they believed in that nonsensical notion of people having a “right” to wander the streets and sleep in their own feces. It’s a political partnership made in hell.
And when it fails, we tend to blame the guns, the drugs, or the bath salts. These simple minded schemes are much easier to sell to an already dumbed down public and much easier than actually rounding up the nuts and putting them back in mental hospitals. The current arrangement offers nothing to those suffering from serious mental illness or to their families who seek help before it’s too late. Nor does it improve the quality of life in our society. It is unspeakably cruel to tell someone that they are merely enjoying their freedom to sleep on the streets.
And as it happens, we aren’t really even saving any money. Today, the costs are spread to the prisons, the courts, the emergency rooms, the streets of our cities, our schools and universities, and our concert venues, and all paid for in triplicate with the blood of innocents. So once again let’s ban guns, box cutters, cargo vans, machetes and samurai swords—but by all means let’s not have a serious discussion about 60 years of poor mental health policy.
We need to reopen the mental hospitals and start filling them once again.
Image copyright: arquiplay77 / 123RF Stock Photo