Oct. 25, 2023, a mentally ill subject entered a bowling alley in Lewiston, Maine, and opened fire with a Ruger semi-automatic .308 rifle; he then drove to a nearby bar and opened fire again. That is the sterile description of the horror that occurred that night.
First responders spent the next two days searching the area with a seriously high pucker factor since the shooter was a military trained firearms instructor who had been institutionalized the previous summer after confessing at a training exercise that he had heard voices telling him to shoot up a military facility. Then, in September, a Sheriff’s Sergeant was dispatched to contact the obviously mentally ill fellow because some were concerned that “the reservist was going to snap and commit a mass shooting.”
Wow, just wow. What the heck is going on? Eighteen people murdered, 13 others wounded, in a highly politicized tragedy. “Gun Control!” was the almost immediate and universal cry, but the deeper, more important issue is why have we failed to deal with mental illness in any effective way? Drive down any major urban street and you are not the least surprised to see a homeless person gesticulating and talking in an obvious intense debate with…nobody. At least nobody that you and I can see.
Pick any newscast and a large number of stories often involve mental illness at some point. Children suffering depression, suicide, gender dysphoria, and other problems were further impacted by the efforts to control the COVID virus by forcing them into unnatural seclusion. Educators, physicians, psychologists, and counselors, seem to pander instead of treat, encourage instead of heal, and accept no other opinions on how to deal with these issues than their own, which have been ineffective. Mass shooters undergoing “transitioning” are not to be analyzed, much less their manifesto read, as in the instance of the Nashville shooting suspect. Law enforcement is constantly told, as is the general public, that the mentally ill are no more dangerous than the general population and need to be protected, not criticized, treated, or actually helped.
There exists a national con job of pseudo-therapy programs, halfway houses, and other charities pretending to help the people in crisis, yet the only thing getting better is the charities’ bank accounts. I sit regularly at my county board of supervisors meeting and go over the grants and funds being expended on the variety of groups pretending to help the homeless (almost universally mentally ill and chemically dependent, illegal aliens, and the poor) and the magnitude is amazing. These programs are requiring more and more public funding with no feedback mechanism. We are caught in the futile cycle of, “spend a fortune - things get worse - ask for more of the public’s money.” And too often the mantra is, “Take funds from the police and give it this or that social service group.”
While defunding the police is no longer a credible option, too many politicians still “act” on that principle and allocate resources to the useless while denying the necessary. The police function is a basic principle of governing and is also a way to improve the lives of the common folk as well as the mentally ill. Too often, the only public servant that actually interacts effectively with the person suffering a mental crisis is the police officer. “Tough love” is not just a saying, it is an ancient wisdom that needs to be fully embraced. Forcing someone into a controlled environment is often the only way to treat many mental illnesses. Many former alcoholics and drug-addicted folks describe their arrest as the catalyst that forced them into the therapy that saved their lives. Yeppers, those nasty police actually save many lives by protecting the public, enforcing laws, and truly caring about their community.
Frankly, American law enforcement has been begging the rest of the system to deal with mental illness for years. Prisons are literally filled with the complete catalog of mental illnesses. New Zealand estimates 90% of its inmates suffer from some form of these illnesses, while American researchers seem to try to minimize mental health’s impact on criminality. Some studies of American institutions come close to New Zealand’s number while others find it as low as 59% but, regardless of the number, mental health is the gorilla in the room when we talk about mass shootings, criminality, homelessness, drug abuse, domestic violence, and suicide. Time for a Dutch Uncle conversation with America
Blaming inanimate objects like guns for a problem caused by mental illness is an exercise in futility that solves nothing, wont work and, worse, limits the freedoms of a free people. Laws need to be enacted, enforced, and followed that include treatment and follow-up for those who suffer from this growing crisis. The time for law enforcement leaders to stand silent is over. Demand action, demand solutions, demand safe streets, demand tools and training, and lead this country to safety.
Dave Smith is an internationally recognized law enforcement trainer and is the creator of “JD Buck Savage.” You can follow Buck on Twitter at @thebucksavage