Do not blame mental illness. Don't even dare.
Doing so is a cop-out, a duck-and-cover attempt to dodge and divert attention away from something finally being done about gun violence to vilifying a population of folks already suffering from stigma, misunderstanding and stereotypes.
"I do think that addressing mental health issues is much more the preventative way to address this," Gov. Bill Haslam said on Monday, in response to the Connecticut shootings.
In other words: the .223-caliber Bushmaster AR-15 assault rifle didn't kill those Connecticut first-graders. Autism did.
In the hours and days following Friday's school shootings, it was reported and rumored that shooter Adam Lanza had been diagnosed with autism or Asperger's syndrome. And thus, a killer of kids he became.
It is not just faulty logic, it is false. Not only are autism and Asperger's not even considered mental illnesses (they're neuro-developmental disorders), there is no definite proof that Adam Lanza had been diagnosed with autism, Asperger's or anything.
And if he had, there is no research connecting neuro-developmental disorders with mass violence.
But you know what the research does say? Know the most obvious statistic of all? When we comb through all the American victims of gun violence, we find one thing in common.
Like the three Lanza took to the elementary school.
The real mental illness is the gun-drunk pathology that has infected this nation and its policy to the point where assault rifles are now more sacred than regulations that can save lives.
No other nation in the world behaves or thinks like we do. American exceptionalism, to the point of suicide. We're killing ourselves.
According to The New York Times, there are about 300 million privately owned guns in the U.S. Enough for every person.
Our murder rate is about 15 times that of other similar countries.
Our children are 13 times more likely to be killed from gun violence than children in other similar countries.
In our state (in 2009, one-quarter of all state legislators had handgun carry permits), the NRA gun-lobby has been itching to push guns into every corner of society.
Churches. Universities. Car trunks. Parking lots. State parks. Bars.
I'll wager that this upcoming legislation season, they attempt to pass legislation allowing guns in schools.
I long for the NRA of old, known for healthily and calmly promoting things like quail hunting and skeet shooting. Today's gun lobby has turned the Second Amendment into an idol. The consequence of over-arming our citizenry has produced a pathology of fear that sees a threat in nearly every corner of American life.
Never will I call for the end of guns. I've owned several, know plenty of others who do, believe they can be used in responsible ways and that the far majority of gun owners do so.
But when we are dealing with an instrument whose potential for death and destruction is so catastrophic, then mere individual rights arguments are thin.
"More Americans die in gun homicides and suicides in six months than have died in the last 25 years in every terrorist attack and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq combined," wrote Nicholas Kristof in his New York Times column on Saturday.
In the post-9/11 months, we waged two wars, surrendered multiple personal and collective freedoms, spent billions of dollars and lost thousands of military lives.
But when the enemy is within -- and gun crime kills more Americans in six months than the last 25 years of terrorism -- we refuse to talk about regulating guns?
That's the real illness.
David Cook is the metro columnist for the Times Free Press, working in the same building where he began his post-college career as a sportswriter for the Chattanooga Free Press. A graduate of Red Bank High, Cook holds a Master's Degree in Peace and Justice Studies from Prescott College and an English literature degree from University of Tennessee-Knoxville. For the last twelve years, Cook has been a teacher at the middle, high school and university ...