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OP-ED | Wayne LaPierre’s Astounding Hypocrisy

by Sarah Darer Littman | Dec 28, 2012 12:00pm
(17) Comments | Commenting has expired
Posted to: Equality, Health Care, Opinion, Newtown

“The truth is, that our society is populated by an unknown number of genuine monsters. People that are so deranged, so evil, so possessed by voices and driven by demons, that no sane person can every possibly comprehend them. They walk among us every single day, and does anybody really believe that the next Adam Lanza isn’t planning his attack on a school, he’s already identified at this very moment?. . . A dozen more killers, a hundred more? How can we possibly even guess how many, given our nation’s refusal to create an active national database of the mentally ill?” Wayne La Pierre, NRA post-Newtown Press Conference, Dec. 21, 2012

When I heard Wayne LaPierre, Executive Vice-President of the NRA, an organization committed to fighting gun registry legislation on the grounds of “freedom” and which in the last cycle alone spent $18.9 million on state and federal political races to further this and other aims, I wondered that the Almighty didn’t strike him down for his hypocrisy.

But LaPierre’s words angered me on a personal as well as an intellectual level because I’m one of those “deranged lunatics” that he wants to put on his “national database of the mentally ill.”

I’ve fought depression since I was a teenager. In my thirties, I succumbed to, and successfully fought and recovered from, the eating disorder bulimia. At the age of 38, I was hospitalized in a psychiatric institution after a suicide attempt. I will be on some level of mood medication for the rest of my life.

I could, like so many before me, be ashamed by this; try to hide my past and feel stigmatized by it. While it’s not always been the easiest decision, I’ve chosen not to.

Instead, I’ve chosen to write and speak about it publicly. Perhaps it’s because I write for teenagers and hope that a depressed or bulimic teen out there might come to know that the pain they are experiencing doesn’t have to be permanent.

As I wrote in an essay for the Chicken Soup for the Soul book, The Power of Positive, “the nadir I experienced at age 38 turned out to be the experience from whence so many other blessings have flowed.”

Perhaps it’s because I’m angry that insurance companies treat mental illness like a second-class citizen, that we have to fight for adequate treatment and then put up with ignoramuses like Wayne La Pierre calling us “monsters,” while refusing to consider even the slightest concessions that guns might be part of the problem. Perhaps I’m fed up with NRA-backed politicians cutting services for mental health in the community and in schools in order to balance budgets — and claiming healthcare reform is “socialism.”

Perhaps I’m sick of people blaming violent video games for incidents like Newtown, Aurora, and Columbine, when the research shows otherwise. Countries where video game consumption is highest tend to be some of the safest countries in the world. America is the outlier.

Perhaps it makes me even more sick because the same gun manufacturers that give the NRA money to defeat gun legislation use such video games to pimp their wares.

Perhaps I’m angry that conservatives try to deflect blame onto the “culture” when Nancy Lanza allegedly taught her obviously troubled son to use legal but exceptionally lethal weapons “to teach him responsibility.” (Ever heard of assigning chores or getting a pet?). And it’s worth noting here as well that the son of David Keene, NRA President and former head of the Conservative Union, was imprisoned for 10 years for shooting at another motorist in Virginia. 

I lived in the United Kingdom in March 1996 when a legally armed gunman killed 15 children ages 5 and 6 and their teacher, who was trying to protect them, in a school in Dunblane, Scotland. I still remember exactly where I was on the country lane between Burton Bradstock and Long Bredy, when I heard the news on the radio, and how I had to pull my car over in a layby because I was crying so hard I couldn’t see the road. It makes me wonder why it’s people like me that the NRA would want to put in a database — people who have overcome great odds to become productive, successful, taxpaying members of society — when such an atrocity could happen again in my lifetime, in my state, while the NRA’s reaction remains “more guns” and vehement opposition to every single piece of legislation aimed at gun control, even those favored by law enforcement.

I had a few sleepless nights after making the mistake of reading the comments section of a piece I wrote for CNN.com about irresponsible media links between the Newtown shooting and Aspergers Syndrome. It made me realize that for all of the complaints from some gun owners about “the culture,” they do not adhere to any limit of decency or rational conversation when their beliefs are threatened.

It made me think twice about writing this. As my Significant Other warned: “Why do you make yourself a target?”

But then I thought about the adults who have come up to me at signings and bought my YA book PURGE — quietly confessing that they, too, are bulimic. I thought about the women who have come up to me after I’ve spoken about being hospitalized, and said, sotto voce with tears in their eyes, “I had a breakdown, too.” I thought about teens who have written to me about being sexually abused and the teens who’ve written to me from hospital while being treated for eating disorders.

For all those people who have felt alone, for all those who have ever written to me privately thanking me for speaking out — and for that teenager I once was — I’m not going to let Wayne LaPierre push me back into the closet.

Sarah Darer Littman is an award-winning columnist and novelist of books for teens. Long before the financial meltdown, she worked as a securities analyst and earned her MBA in Finance from the Stern School at NYU.

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(17) Comments

posted by: BettyGallo | December 28, 2012  3:53pm

Thank you

posted by: Tessa Marquis | December 28, 2012  7:24pm

Good work. Thanks for writing this.

posted by: Chien DeBerger | December 29, 2012  11:31am

Now wait Sarah, we have a background check for those who have domestic violence arrests, those who have disqualifying misdemeanor arrests, those with felony arrests; why not a national database for those who have disqualifying psychological problems? There are chronic problems that need to be addressed. Does being bulimic or anorexic disqualify you? I believe not. But what about bi-polar disease? Schizophrenia? Some aspects of PTSD? I believe that without a doctor’s input or a concurrence from the medical community on what is qualifying or disqualifying, nothing should be done. I do believe that this should not be taken off of the table. I am glad for your successes and wish you all the more.

posted by: NoNonsense2012 | December 29, 2012  5:41pm

This is one of the best, if not THE best, opinion pieces I have read on this subject. Bless you for writing it, Sarah, and I wish you continued success. I am sure you have been, and are, an inspiration to others.

Now, in answer to Chien DeBerger’s comment: Do you know why there’s a background check database for arrests and convictions and not for mental illness? It’s because arrests and convictions are based on ACTIONS, criminal actions. Mental illness, in and of itself, is not a crime any more than cancer or diabetes are a crime. I am not in favor of unjustly stigmatizing millions of people, the vast majority of whom are not violent and will never commit a crime.

posted by: saramerica | December 29, 2012  6:42pm

saramerica

That would be fine, Chien, if the NRA weren’t working to oppose the closing of every loophole - such as background checks of private sales at gun shows. Any one with the arrests you speak of can get a gun at a gun show without a background check. Maybe you should look at this:

http://www.youtube.com/v/baPgr_tw79Q

and read this:

http://www.salon.com/2012/12/28/iraq_vet_newtown_changed_my_mind_on_gun_control/


The NRA isn’t willing to give up anything. Until they come off their uncompromising, guns aren’t the problem position, I’m not willing to put my name into a database. I have a bipolar II diagnosis and I never harmed or attempted to harm anyone other than myself. Read the Iraq Vet’s piece. He has accepted the fallacy of the NRA’s “guns don’t kill people, people do” argument, because he sees the research on gun deaths in other countries. You can’t blame this on video games. The research proves otherwise. Our country is the outlier in the industrialized world when it comes to gun deaths because of the easy availability of guns. End of story.

posted by: Joebigjoe | December 29, 2012  8:29pm

Sarah God bless you but I have to slightly disagree with you.

I think people who apply for gun permits or purchase guns should have their names checked on a mental illness database of some type. The Virginia tech shooter was declared mentally incompetent by a judge yet that info never got into a system to prevent his subsequent gun purchase.

I hope you understand that people who try to harm themselves would most likely be on that list.

Don’t worry though it will never happen. The ACLU will fight it the same way they fight the state when they try to keep people institutionalized that need to be kept locked up. CT Junkie should do an expose on that

posted by: GoatBoyPHD | December 30, 2012  2:36am

GoatBoyPHD

Excellent column but the NRA wasn’t alone in the call for the National Database.

Then there was the oft-quoted “20% of Americans are mentally ill” which begins to border on the comical when broken down to age and sex and you get 36% of young women 15 to 24 are mentally ill.

http://tinyurl.com/cs32bkn

People need to really get into the outrage of H1B job applicants and their pristine histories. Soon Americans won’t be able to compete on any level with life long tracking of credit, patient care, and criminal justice infractions.

posted by: Terry D. Cowgill | December 30, 2012  2:27pm

Terry D. Cowgill

You are brave to share these thoughts, Sarah. I applaud you for doing so.
Now to be fair to LaPierre, I really don’t think he was calling women with eating disorders who battle depression “monsters.” My own sister fits that same description. To my knowledge, neither of you has ever shot up a school full of little kids.
And I really don’t think you would wind up on his proposed national database. Sounds to me like he’s talking about people who are mentally ill and inclined toward violence and suggesting they not be allowed anywhere near a gun. I’m sure we can all agree on that.
Nevertheless, you have penned a powerful piece. Nice work.

posted by: Tessa Marquis | December 30, 2012  9:13pm

Never trust a List.
My relatives were on a list in Germany. Get it?
There was a “black list” in the ‘50s in the US and a list of Japanese-Americans that was used to round people up for camps.

You can’t trust the people penning the Lists.

posted by: saramerica | December 31, 2012  9:41am

saramerica

Terry - that’s the problem. How do you know who WLP intends to be on this database? You know me. You know your sister. I am bipolar II. I could well be considered “dangerous” by WLP’s standards. Yet thanks to the fact that I can afford to pay outrageous health insurance premiums every month, and my copays for medication, and I am educated enough to fight the insurance company, I am a healthy, productive taxpaying member of society. Look at the reaction of the gun owners whose personal data was published. I don’t agree with the paper’s decision, but equally, they’re so freaked out that their privacy was invaded for owning a firearm - how much more personal is it for ME that WLP want to invade my medical records and put THAT in a national database?

posted by: Joebigjoe | December 31, 2012  11:11am

Sara, dont worry, there will be no list. There will be “better” reporting “processes” for gun background checks which will be a joke. People will find years of employment working on “processes.”

Tess made great points about lists and WLP is pushing back on the hypocrisy of lists and the historical horrors of lists. He knows the ACLU will shoot down lists, no pun intended.

IMO, what drives gun ownership more than anything, is fear that comes from events where innocent people are killed, and the resulting rhetoric that lacks any knowledge of history or facts. Then you get people that grasp one idea to fix the problem that sends shivers down the spines of law abiding knowledgeable citizens.

How many people with mental illness that would never hurt a fly went out and bought guns recently thinking that right may go away? How many law abiding people that would never hurt a fly went out and bought so-called assault weapons recently? How many criminals give a damn about new or old gun laws?

This issue was caused by politicans over many years, although in reality the issue is caused by the person that harms someone else. We are more divided now than we were during the Civil War but the difference is we are now divided house to house, as well as state to state.

posted by: GoatBoyPHD | December 31, 2012  1:35pm

GoatBoyPHD

The problem is predictive behavior.


Was Omar Thornton sane in 2010 when purchasing legal guns, stoking up on racist victimization literature, stealing from his employer (justified after all—he was an oppressed minority according to the lit) and then exacting vigilante justice against 8 people as one of the oppressed?


During Newtown’s last tangle with the devil in the form of Richard Craft and his infamous wood chipper, was Helle Craft the victim of insanity or predictive behavior?


What about Lorne Acquin and the 1977 Prospect arson murders of his 9 family members? Sane or predictable behavior?


The 1998 CT Lotto murders leaving 5 dead including the suspect?


How about the 2003 arson death of 16 nursing home residents by a young mentally impaired woman, Lesley Andino,  who was then under a doctor’s care and observation and since ruled incompetent? Did the psychiatric profession successfully predict her behavior and stop her from this act of violence


I harbor extremely dim prospects for a proper diagnosis as a result of these lists and what’s more I expect we’ll see more people avoiding care and the stigma of “the list”.

posted by: saramerica | December 31, 2012  2:59pm

saramerica

Not to mention that thanks to the NRA, there are provisions in healthcare legislation restricting physicians from asking about presence of guns in the home:

” “wellness and prevention” portions of the health-care law “may not require the disclosure or collection of any information” relating to the “presence or storage of a lawfully possessed firearm or ammunition in the residence or on the property.” Further, the measure says the law cannot be used to “maintain records of individual ownership or possession of a firearm or ammunition.””

If Adam Lanza had been under psychiatric care - something we still don’t know - and his doctor knew there was an arsenal of lethal weapons in his home, those kids and their teachers might still be alive - because doctor would have been more likely to recommend commitment given imminent danger. The single minded “protect guns at all costs” lobbying efforts of the NRA on both a state and federal level have a lot to answer for.

posted by: Reasonable | December 31, 2012  4:40pm

Our problem is really a lack of morality in the USA, which the ACLU and the Supreme Court encouraged by taking God and “In God We Trust” is now only a a term
that is not revelent in the eyes of our country—and we are now paying the price for it.

posted by: saramerica | December 31, 2012  5:06pm

saramerica

Reasonable - give me a break. If a “lack of morality” is the problem, then why was the son David Keane, President of the NRA and former head of the Conservative Union, jailed for 10 years for shooting at another motorist? Surely you’re not going to tell me that HE didn’t get enough “conservative values” and religion in his life? Honestly, stop repeating the same talking points and blaming the ACLU and liberals for everything.

posted by: Joebigjoe | December 31, 2012  5:10pm

Sara I am sure you are a wonderful loving person, but you just proved my point on being divided.

Physicians are in no way prohibited from asking about firearms. Physicians will and should ask about firearms if there is mental llness in the home. It’s none of their business otherwise.

What you just quoted has to do with keeping records and disclosure of those records. I own a firearm and there is no mental illness in my home. Unless I am threat or someone in my house is a threat, it is no ones business if I own a gun especially the governments. I have a fear of something called home invasions by animals in society and collapse of our currency because we spend like drunken sailors. 

Since the Republicans and NRA had nothing to do with the writing of Obamacare I guess the Dems saw that having doctors collect gun data on law abiding citizens would be crazy and put their bill that they rammed through against the wishes of the American people in jeopardy.

posted by: NoNonsense2012 | December 31, 2012  6:30pm

@ Reasonable: Are you really so cynical? Do you truly believe there’s a “lack of morality in the USA” and, if so, that it’s because of the Supreme Court and the ACLU? Do you not believe that a person who is moral—really, truly moral—will be so no matter what the Supreme Court and/or ACLU do or say? Do you really believe that just because God/prayer are not ensconced in schools people cannot or do not have God and prayer in their hearts? How sad.