The Perfect Storm: Mental Illness, Guns and a Culture of Misogyny and Violence

Eileen Bailey Health Guide
  • After the latest horrible tragedy involving mass killing, the theories about why this happened abound. Because Elliot Rodger killed himself at the end of his rampage, we won’t ever know exactly why. But, because he left behind YouTube videos and a 141 page manifesto, we are given more than a glimpse into his reasoning.


    Mental Illness


    We have a mental health crisis. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), 25 percent of adults in the United States experience a mental health disorder each year. And, 1 in 17 adults have serious mental illness. But, there remains a problem with access to mental health care. NAMI states that less than one-third of those with mental illness receive care for their illness. Even so, most people with mental illness are not violent. There are, however, some factors that can point to the possibility of violence:

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    • Substance abuse
    • Untreated psychosis
    • Past history of violence
    • Being young and male

    Rodgers fit into at least two of these categories: past history of violence (there were several incidents over the past year with him throwing drinks at others and trying to push some girls off a ledge) and young/male. Without knowing his health history, it is impossible to know whether the other two fit as well.


    Rodgers, however, did have a therapist and was obviously receiving at least minimal mental health services. Access to care was not an issue, however, we do not know the extent of this treatment nor whether he chose, as many people with mental health do, to be noncompliant in following treatment. Because of his age, his parents would not be able to force him into treatment or following treatment. Instead, they might be forced to helplessly watch as their grown child refused treatment. Rodger’s mother did the best she knew how to do, she contacted the police, she made her concerns known. But, as the parent of an adult, your hands are tied.




    There are laws to prevent those with serious mental illness from purchasing a gun. From past experience, we know that these laws don’t always play a role in whether and how someone obtains a gun. In the horrible shooting in Newtown, Adam Lanza had access to his mother’s guns. He didn’t need to purchase a gun. In this case, Rodgers was able to buy guns because he had not been involuntarily hospitalized for his illness and therefore wasn’t on a “do not buy” list. Laws governing the purchase of guns must balance privacy rights with safety rights. It is impossible and unfair to decide that every person with mental illness cannot own a gun. It is wrong to have every person with mental illness added to a database and prevented from purchasing a gun. At the same time, it is important to come up with laws that protect society and not let guns into the hands of those who cannot use them responsibly.




    The loudest voices heard after the tragedy were from those pointing to Rodger’s misogynist viewpoints. We live in a misogynist world. There is no doubt about that. Within a few days of the recent tragedy, there were news stories such as:

    • Woman in Pakistan stoned for marrying a man she loved against her families wishes
    • Woman in Sudan who was sentenced to death for marrying a Christian and converting to Christianity gave birth in the hospital of a jail, her husband was not allowed to be there.

    And lest you say, “but, these were in other countries,” in the United States there was a news story about a judge who sentenced a man who was convicted of drugging and raping his wife repeatedly over a few years to house arrest.

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    On Twitter, women and men from around the country wrote about personal stories where misogyny played a role in their personal and professional life using #yesallwomen. Some of the tweets:

    • “I shouldn’t have to hold my car keys in hand like a weapon & check over my shoulder every few seconds when I walk at night.” @SophiaBush
    • “When I had a seizure in my home, the EMS guys asked my roommates if it was possible I was trying to get a boy’s attention. @iSmashFizzle
    • “Because when a girl is harassed or even groped by a stranger in public, we’re told to “take it as a compliment.” @bottrill
    • “Because every woman I know has experienced some form of sexual harassment, abuse or assault, myself included.” @leahpickett

    Women are routinely paid less than men, even when doing the same job, passed up for promotion and blamed when assaulted. While great strides have been made over the years, it isn’t enough. It is still a “man’s world” and that leaves some men feeling entitled to treat women as they see fit.


    Rodger’s felt entitled. His rants that were posted on YouTube (and taken down) as well as his manifest, were full of references to being entitled to attention, adoration and sex. He didn’t understand why women didn’t fall in love with him and felt they should be punished for rejecting him. His misogynist viewpoints came through loud and clear.


    A Culture of Violence


    There has long been a debate about the violence in our television shows, movies and video games, especially those that are aimed toward children and teens. If we constantly see violence as a way to solve problems, we learn that is the correct way, or, if not correct, than effective. But critics of this theory point out that millions of people see violence all around every day, in real life and in different forms of media but yet never hurt another person. Even so, are we teaching our youth that a gun is a good way to solve an argument or settle a real or perceived slight? The debate isn’t going to end with this tragedy, but hopefully, the discussion will continue and we become more involved in teaching our children better ways to solve problems than to do so with fists or guns.


    It is true that as a society we must better address the needs of those who suffer with mental illness. It is true that we have too many guns on the streets and, in some places, it is much too easy to purchase a gun. It is true that every day we see images of violence, in television shows and movies and on the nightly news. And, it is true that we live in a misogynist society. But it is impossible to say that any one of these individually caused this tragedy. After all, most people with mental illness never hurt anyone and we all live with the violence all around us but don’t pick up a gun and shoot someone. While misogyny is all around us, it doesn’t drive every male to shoot every woman who doesn’t live to serve men. While each of these problems might not explain the tragedy, maybe a perfect storm of all of them do. 

Published On: May 27, 2014