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  • Deah Curry PhD

The Mental Illness of a Country

According to the Gun Violence Archive, as of 4 Aug 2019, there had been 33,028 total shooting incidents in 2019 (the year this post was originated), resulting in 8,734 deaths and 17,308 injuries.

As of 20 May 2023, the number of gun deaths for the current year so far is 16,287, with 227 mass shootings, which is 87 more incidents in which 4 or more people have been shot than there have been days in the year so far. 679 children under 18 years old have been killed. 151 law enforcement officers have been killed or injured.

Let that sink in.

If that number of deaths and events requiring medical intervention was caused by anything other than firearms, we'd call it an urgent crisis beyond the level of Covid, Ebola, or AIDS. Governments and health care resources would be rapidly marshaled, causes would be forcefully countered, and the epidemic fought into remission if not eradication, with as much medical might as could be applied.

Notice that instead only impotent, self-serving thoughts and prayers are repetitively yet temporarily tossed at each outbreak of gun violence in the US. Know that a powerful lobbying group, the NRA, has nearly all Republican politicians in their pocket to the point where government study on the long term cultural impact of gun violence is prohibited. Statistics on such violence are repressed. And even the medical community is told not to treat gun violence as a health issue -- despite the life long suffering foisted on the survivors and first responders alike.

We are living in a crisis on a cultural level.

Officials and pundits trot out the worn out trope of calling shooters mentally ill, and shifting the blame of this systemic cancer to the individuals who pull the semi-automatic triggers. Then legislatures and school boards fail to provide financing for mental health care and education. Clearly, the shooters are not the only ones who are mentally ill.

America as a gun-fanatic culture is suffering from a severe mental illness. It has yet to be officially named. I'd call it the illness of toxic exceptionalism.

Inextricably linked as a vital cause of the illness are the interrelated problems of white supremacy, toxic dominance impulse, grievance politics, and white privilege.

On the national cultural and foreign relations levels, toxic exceptionalism leads to believing only our answers are correct (supremacy), that federal and international problems must be solved with force and that anyone with a different view or criticism is our enemy who must be squashed (toxic dominance), and that we are inherently somehow better than everyone else and therefore deserving of special consideration (privilege).

The Mental Illness of White Supremacy

The problem of white supremacy is indisputable in this epidemic's causal equation. Ninety-five percent of all shooters are white guys who are angry that people of other races are getting help and opportunities that they haven't gotten, usually because they have been too diseased with hate-filled cognitive distortions to ask for them.

They have been taught that people who are not like them are less human, less deserving, and shouldn't exist. They have also been taught -- whether at home, school, church, by peers, social media, distortion opinion masquerading as news, movies, or video games -- that they are entitled to have anything and everything they want, and if they don't have it, then someone else is to blame and must be eliminated.

This is, in part, the mental illness of perceiving life as a zero sum game. This is the mental illness that is baked into the doctrine of American Exceptionalism.

The Mental Illness of Toxic Dominance Impulse

The problem of toxic dominance impulse plays into the white supremacy issue and is replicated on the individual as well as cultural policy level. This is evidenced in the belief that violence is a solution to reducing frustration, to getting your way, to protecting your own, to keeping people in line, and having an orderly society. This illness is showing up now in the near-rush of panicked politics to punish difference by outlawing drag shows, taking over parenting rights when a trans kid needs understanding, and banning gender affirming health care.

The infamous stand your ground principle is an example of this belief. The use of punitive tariffs, breaking various treaties and bullying brinksmanship games with the world's worst dictators just to "show who's boss" is an example of the toxic masculinity variant currently running too many of our states, and poisoning the federal government.

Toxic dominance is a complex that, at root, sees bullying and violence -- along with suppression of empathy and kindness -- as normal. Anger is the most commonly allowed emotion, while feeling sad, disappointed, helpless, or devalued are viewed as unacceptable.

The mental illness of toxic dominance works with white supremacy to encourage the extreme use of force when anger reaches the boiling point. What these home-grown domestic terrorists do in American neighborhoods, our ex-president threatened and continues to threaten on the international stage. It is evidence of this mixture of toxicity being a cultural illness that his rally supporters cheer him on with their chants of lock her up and send them back, or "beat them up and I'll pay your legal bills" -- instead of rejecting him for all his actions that are destroying the country and the planet.

It must be said that women too can be afflicted with toxic dominance. Abused and neglected children, along with harrassed, overworked, and exploited employees can attest. But the prevalence of males suffering from, and acting out due to this form of mental illness what has earned the more common name of toxic masculinity.

The Mental Illness of White Privilege

White privilege is the condition of getting treated more fairly, or with some advantage that people of color aren't afforded in similar or even identical situations, even if that advantage is just feeling comfortable or safe in normal everyday life. It has been called the other side of racism by multicultural transformation activist Paula Rothenburg because it allows those of us who are white to take many things for granted. It's not about one's level of wealth. Gina Crosley-Corcoran explains that even whites in severe poverty have unrecognized privileges that persons of color don't.

Witness the kind of courtesy given the El Paso shooter upon his arrest after killing 20 people -- the Dallas News reports that he simply laid down his gun when approached by officers. Photos show him standing, being treated respectfully by an arresting officer. Contrast that with the video we've all seen of Eric Garner's arrest for mere suspicion of selling single cigarettes out of a pack. Eric was tackled by several cops, forced to the ground, choked to suffocation and killed by a cop with no chance to even be taken into custody. Patrick Crusius enjoyed white privilege. Eric Garner did not.

White privilege is a mental illness by way of the multitude of microaggressions on a daily basis. Microaggressions come in intentional or unintentional verbal, behavioral, or environmental treatment and communications that are felt as hostile, derogatory, or negative to those who are perceived as not belonging to the societal norm.

As part of the gun violence problem, white privilege allows white supremacists to not be immediately perceived as dangerous when purchasing assault rifles, or long guns with multiple extended clips.

The second amendment to the US Constitution says: "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.” A plain text reading shows that this right to bear arms is only in the context of being a member of a state-controlled army. It is not about an individual right, such as the right of free speech, to stock up on weapons of war and use public gathering places as a target range.

It's not about a right to own several rapid fire assault weapons to kill civilians minding their own business at a garlic fest, or at a concert or club, or in a grade school or high school, or at a Walmart. It's about being in a militia. This is conveniently overlooked by the NRA, MAGA supporters, and others infected by this peculiarly American mental illness.

But more than all this gun violence being about mental illness, it's really about moral illness. No amount of shifting the burden to therapists for identifying patients who might show signs of the potential for acting on homicidal ideation will solve the gun violence crisis in America.


Statistics from The Gun Violence Archive is an online archive of gun violence incidents collected from over 7,500 law enforcement, media, government and commercial sources daily in an effort to provide near-real time data about the results of gun violence. GVA is an independent data collection and research group with no affiliation with any advocacy organization.


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