Letters to the Editor

LETTER: From my own personal experience, mental illness needs to be addressed when subject of guns is discussed

Dear Editor,

There is talk now in the legislature surrounding guns in light of recent tragedies. Both sides are making arguments for either proliferation or protections along their party policies and political contribution calculations. There is urgency now that children have been shot. Solutions are being offered to the problem we all share, and a fear we can’t shake. Each one of these policies will be ineffective. Our elected representatives are wasting these tragedies.

Four years ago was my family’s personal tragedy. After a year and a half in which our whole world was the treatment and support of my brother and his mental illness, our world ended. My brother shot himself through the chin, but only after killing a co-worker to make his suicide sanctioned by scripture. He wanted out.

My brother and I were gunmen by the time we were in elementary school. While my path went elsewhere, his stayed with guns, so much so that he studied gunsmithing in college before planning to enlist as a military officer with a specialized skill set. But then, while he was at school, he got dealt that card he was going to get dealt that nobody wants to receive. The early twenties is when mental illness really takes hold if it catches, and it got him good.

By the time his mental illness crazy hit, he was already gun crazy. He was steeped in the lunacy of gun-nuttery and the lone vigilante narrative some hold so dear. He wanted to be an army of one before he became a Christian Soldier. The shifting diagnosis of his condition and the medications prescribed to treat his neurochemical imbalances led to a situation where his interpretation of scripture was suspect. He was gun crazy for a long time before he went mental illness crazy. Going god crazy later didn’t help.

I say crazy because that’s what we fear. Mental illness is nothing to fear. It’s something to be managed. But we don’t even know what it is. When I went to the coroner to hear the results of my brother’s autopsy, I was given an apology on behalf of the medical professions because, despite the best efforts of friends and family and doctors and scans and treatment facilities, we still lost him, and we lost him unspeakably. Oh, how I cried, knowing I’d never get answers I so desperately needed.

Not that answers aren’t being offered. There is legislation under consideration that would limit the amount of bullets a gun can hold, or place armed guards in school, or make it more difficult to purchase multiple assault rifles for hunting purposes. But these are all examples of reactive policies meant to assuage the fears of worried constituents. Positional arguments along party line that obscure the issues at hand will not be the end of these tragedies.

My brother would not get treatment that jeopardized his ability to own guns specifically because he was a gunman. Laws designed to prevent such tragedies don’t matter when a person decides to act outside the laws. If such tragedies are to be prevented, the solution has to be preventative. Reactive policies only exacerbate the problem and increase the stigma surrounding mental illness, which helps nobody and makes not a one of us safer.

We have this unbelievable opportunity to rectify this. The agency that has been created by this recent spat of tragedies could be used to find solutions. Families put in the same position as mine could have answers that can help them either keep from being shattered, or at least better able to pick up the pieces. But we don’t fully understand the most volatile part of the problem and seem committed to our collective ignorance on the subject of mental illness.

We talk about mental illness like 28 percent of the population isn’t personally affected. We talk about mental illness like it doesn’t span class and income and race and gender. We talk about mental illness like we know what we are talking about. We don’t. We venerate crazies who keep it together and drag us begrudgingly forward while at the same time vilifying crazies who can’t figure it out and drag us down. There is a very fine line that separates the two.

There are people out there in the position my family was in, putting their absolute everything into fighting the impossible. The dialogue in the ether concerning these tragedies is so positional, and that only makes it harder for the people who are desperately seeking answers to invisible problems. We should be devoting our time and energy into figuring out what those problems are beyond our current vision and what sort of solutions we can come up with to not only treat our crazies, but get the best out of them. Because the community that can get the best out of their crazies has a long-term strategic advantage in absolutely every field. But instead of talking about mental illness, we are talking about giving teachers guns and praying the next shooting isn’t close, and we are wasting another in a long line of tragedies.

Nelson Bonestroo (@nsbones) is the brother of Derik Bonestroo, who murdered Eldora general manager Brian Mahon before shooting himself.