[This blog post was updated on 15th & 26th December, & 10th January – see comments at the foot of the post.]
How often do you see people automatically linking mental ill health with violent crime? Too often. Especially given the fact that, not surprisingly, studies show that people with mental health problems (ie vulnerable people) are more likely to be victims of crime than perpetrators.
Yesterday, moral panic gripped the US following a truly horrific gun massacre at a primary school. Calls for stricter gun controls were made. Here’s what Piers Morgan – whose ITV1 programme “Piers Morgan’s Life Stories” recently won mental health charity Mind’s Media Award for factual entertainment – said about mental health:
“I’d ban ALL guns for convicted criminals and ANYONE with ANY mental health history whatsoever.”
The familiar conflation of violence and mental health: anyone who’s ever had any mental health history whatsoever, in Morgan’s view, has the potential to commit a violent massacre …? So that makes me a potential killer?
Here’s a Storify story containing the original tweet by Piers Morgan, together with other ones before and after putting it into context, as well as brilliant responses from other tweeps. Very well worth a read.
Morgan made some sensible suggestions for debate, given the dreadful context. I don’t think there’s any reason for a private individual to own a gun and I’m very pleased to have the restrictions we have on gun ownership in the UK. These were introduced in the wake of the Dunblane primary school killings in 1996.
But here, Morgan is discussing gun control in the US, where gun ownership is seen by many as a constitutional right. Morgan’s premise seems to be that there is a profile within which these multiple killers fits and that this profile should be the basis for new gun control laws. In Morgan’s tweets, the profile for those who commit gun masacres is anyone who:
– is under 25,
– has been convicted of a crime, or
– has any mental health history whatsoever
Does Morgan pick these categories because each of the killers was under 25, a convicted criminal AND has a mental health history? Or meets just ONE of those criteria?
Banning anyone convicted of a crime from gun ownership would cover Morgan himself, should the law ever catch up with him over allegations relating to phone hacking during his time as a tabloid newspaper editor. Or allegations of perjury in the evidence he gave to the Leveson enquiry.
Banning anyone with any mental health history whatsoever from owning a gun would stop a good proportion of the guests on his mental health award-winning show “Piers Morgan’s life stories” from doing so. And it would mean a huge proportion of the US population would fall within the ban. Why? Because, according to the World Health Organisation, one in two people will be affected by a mental health problem during their lifetime. So that means half the US population would be banned from owning guns. Not a bad idea if that means fewer guns in private hands, but not entirely fair.
Why pick on these particular 3 categories of people to ban from private gun ownership? Given that every single US school shooter (bar two) has been male, why not ban all men from owning guns? This statistic would make banning man far fairer – and, more to the point, far more effective – than assuming that everyone with any mental health history whatsoever is a potential school shooter. Clearly I’m not arguing for banning all men from owning guns. I’m using this to illustrate the point that, if it’s unfair to label all men as potential killers, then it’s also wrong to do that to everyone who’s had a mental health problem.
And the most disappointing thing? That it should be one of the people who, less than a month ago, was given an award by Mind for successfully challenging the myths and stereotypes that surround mental health problems who is perpetrating the spurious link between mental health and violent crime.
And finally, here’s a link to that Storify story again – it really is worth checking out the tweets.
Saturday 15th December – Mind Charity tweeted this in response to adverse comments on Twitter:
“It is very disappointing to hear him say that – people with mental health problems are more likely to be a victim that the perpetrator http://bit.ly/ZugpxU. The media award went to the Life Stories show, for the guests who went on prime time TV, who felt they could talk openly & honestly about their mental health experiences and the impact it had on them. http://bit.ly/UHQcq1“
Wednesday 26th December – This story appeared in the Guardian newspaper, headlined: “New petition urges US to keep Piers Morgan because ‘US doesn’t want him. Fightback is launchhed after tens of thousands back demands for TV presenter to be expelled from US.”
Thursday 10th January – The White House issued an official response to the petition calling for Piers’ Morgan’s deportation, signed by over 100,000 people.