Ohio State Stabbings a Reminder That Guns Aren’t the Only Dangerous Weapon

Ohio State University campus
Photo Credit: 
Dan Keck via https://www.flickr.com/photos/140641142@N05/28350364992

At least nine people sustained non-life threatening injuries in a knife attack on the Ohio State University’s campus today, forcing a campus wide lockdown. A “shelter-in-place” order has been lifted, but classes have been canceled for the day. Initially, reports indicated a live shooter scenario, but it turns out that the assailant possessed only a butcher’s knife.

Early reports indicate that the assailant first drove a car into a group of pedestrians before then getting out and attacking people with a butcher’s knife. Abdul Artan, the assailant, is known to be of Somali descent, and had spent time living in Pakistan before his family moved to the United States as legal residents. (As I don’t believe in glorifying the perpetrators of these crimes, I will refer to him henceforth only as “the assailant.”) Thankfully, the assailant didn’t possess a gun and was quickly killed by a responding officer. Early reports indicate that an officer was able to put the suspect down within only a few minutes of the attack starting.

Gun control remains a hot topic in the United States. For the record, I support basic measures, such as background and mental health checks, and believe that all guns should be sold with a trigger lock. Yet as today’s attack proves, people don’t need access to guns to inflict harm. The exact circumstances surrounding today’s attack remain unknown and given the assailants background, there is good reason to suspect that Islamic extremism played a role. Still, there’s another common element found in most mass attacks in the United States, and that has also been tied to Islamic extremism: mental illness.

With the United States having suffered yet another violent attack, it’s important to revisit this issue. Mental illness remains a major problem in the United States. High health care costs and an unwillingness to talk about issues in the open means that mental health issues often go undiagnosed, untreated, and are not discussed even among family and friends.

Mental Illness Needs To Be Brought Into the Spotlight

To be clear, little information regarding the assailant at the Ohio State University has so been released. It is possible that mental illness had nothing to do with today’s attack. However, in past attacks mental illness and various mental disturbances have been an important factor.

Adam Lanza, the Sandy Hook shooter who killed 26 innocent people, many of them children, was known to have suffered from a form of autism. That, in and of itself, isn’t out of the ordinary, but many now believe that Lanza suffered from other, more severe disorders, including schizophrenia, severe social anxiety, and mental depression, and other disturbances.

Seung-Hui Cho, the Virginia Tech shooter, also suffered from mental illnesses and had spent time in psych wards. James Holmes, who shot and killed 12 people at a movie theatre in Colorado, also appears to be suffering from severe mental illnesses.

Reports and studies also suggest that those who suffer from mental illness, including depression, are more likely to be drawn to Islamic extremism. For whatever reason, perhaps searching for a sense of belonging, or perhaps simply being more impressionable, or simply depressed and wanting to take their anger out on other people, mental illness does seem to draw people to terrorism.

Once upon a time, the United States had one of the world’s best mental health systems. In terms of mental hospital beds, 500,000 have been closed over the last sixty years, with less than 38,000 remaining open. Worst yet, about half of those still open are part of the correctional system, which is increasingly expected to bear the burden of the United States’ mental health problems. Even if mental illness didn't play a role in today's stabbings, it will almost certainly play a role in a future attack. Further, if our mental health system is not improved, the risks will only increase.

Of course, most people who suffer from mental illnesses will never go on to perpetrate massively violent crimes. Just as mental illness needs to be treated as a public health issue, and just as people need to become more open talking about it, society needs to be careful not to discriminate against or persecute those who suffer from mental issues.

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