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UCSB shooting another reason to reform mental health laws

May 28, 2014 - Andrea Johnson
Last Friday, a 22-year-old evil and misogynistic creep named Elliot Rodger stabbed and shot six University of California-Santa Barbara students and then killed himself.

In the past few days, political activists of all types have tried to find different meanings in Rodger's online ranting. The half white, half Asian Rodger hated blonde, white women who wouldn't give him the time of day and was outraged because black and Asian and Hispanic men were successful with the opposite sex when he was not. Hence, some activists see the murders as a hate crime against women or another example of the damage done by white male expectations. Both those narratives seem like quite a stretch. Rodger's hateful rants and fixation on blondes were simply manifestations of his mental illness. Unfortunately, he was just the latest in a long line of young men in recent years who have perpetrated mass killings that received high profile media coverage. Almost all of the mass shooters were male. Most of these men who were responsible were young, in their late teens or early 20s. Many of them were white, though not all. The one thing many of these young men seem to have in common is mental illness. Based on the news reports, Rodger likely had Asperger's syndrome. He had also been treated by multiple mental health professionals since the age of 9, some of whom prescribed antipsychotic drugs that he refused to take. His online manifesto looks like the rantings of a narcissist and of a psychopath.

His parents were concerned enough to contact the police about his behavior earlier this spring. However, when the local police paid Rodger a visit, they found him shy and personable and didn't bother to seek a warrant to search his home. If they had, they would have found the weapons used in Friday's attack. All were weapons he had legally purchased. His psychiatric history and instability were not enough to prevent him from being a gun owner. Hindsight is 20/20, but I imagine the local police are kicking themselves right now for not taking the concerns of Rodger's parents more seriously.

Most people with Asperger's or mental illnesses are not violent. They are far more likely to become victims of violence rather than perpetrators. Likewise, not all people who are violent are mentally ill. But surely it should make sense to take seriously evidence of violent or dangerous behavior and actual threats of violence, especially when they are reported by the concerned family members and friends who are best in a position to know. The nation's mental health system and laws need serious reform. It sounds like Rodger's parents did their best to stop him and get him help, but their hands were tied because he was of age and they could not have him forcibly committed to a psychiatric facility. Changing the laws to make it easier to commit an adult who is a danger to himself or others would probably be a good first step in heading off a similar tragedy. It should also be made easier to put limits on gun purchases by people like Rodger.

What else, if anything, do you think could be done to prevent this kind of crime?


Article Comments



May-30-14 12:28 PM

I think a mistake was made a generation ago when they closed so many psychiatric facilities in favor of "community based care." In actuality, the community based care is often unavailable and there are long wait times for an appointment. Parents end up taking kids to an emergency room, where they are stabilized and then released days later, only to begin the cycle again. As adults, many people with serious psychiatric conditions end up on the streets or in jails. Of course, I'd rather have seen Rodger jailed before he committed mass murder, but he should have been in a long term psychiatric facility before it came to this.


May-30-14 8:39 AM

How about we bring back civil commitment? In the past, something like this situation would have been a no-brainer. He'd have been locked up and this tragedy would have been prevented. My understanding is that this kid had a long history of mental illness.

And this way, we wouldn't need to commit violence against millions of people who had nothing to do with this or other similar crimes.


May-28-14 5:17 PM

I'm not sure how practical it would be to require a mental health check for all gun purchasers. Health records are private and people with mental illnesses maintain their civil rights. I do think it should be investigated further if someone makes a credible report to law enforcement that a friend or relative is threatening to kill himself or others. Apparently, in this case, Rodger didn't make a threat to kill a specific person, at least in whatever his parents saw, and there was only so much the police could do. Combined with his significant mental health history and odd behavior, even vague threats ought to have been enough for the police to do a bit more than they apparently did.


May-28-14 1:59 PM

This is a thought provoking article. I'm sure there will be many people who believe the rights of the individual trump the rights of the general public, but I disagree. Owning a gun is a privilege, not a necessity, that should have qualifications. Requiring some kind of basic mental health check prior to buying a gun would not stop every problem but it is much better to be proactive than reactive.


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