Firearms and mental illness: The problem hits home

By Robert Northup

My sons both suffer from schizophrenia, a devastating mental illness. My older son is diagnosed and accepts treatment, including medication, for his condition. My younger son refuses to get diagnosed and will not accept any kind of treatment. He now owns seven firearms. As much as I believe that he represents a menace to society, there is no legal way for me to limit his access to the private arsenal that he has amassed.

Schizophrenia typically manifests in males during their late teens or early 20s. When my older son abruptly developed the condition, it was the end of his career as a popular football star and the beginning of a long nightmare. I had no idea why he suddenly began to behave so strangely. He believed that I could hear his thoughts and therefore I knew all about it. He also believed that he had extremely dangerous psychic power to physically transform and mutate people around him, a power he could not control. He believed that the only way to protect everyone else in the world would be to commit suicide.

Fortunately, I did not own any firearms for him to use. He would have become one of the many thousands of American teenagers who have died this way, and I would have been completely unaware of why he did it. I soon realized that he needed treatment, and he was willing to take medication. His life is now a success story of becoming independent and learning to effectively cope with his mental illness.

News headlines focus on murder by firearms, with emphasis on the tiny minority of such murders that have occurred during single-shooter rampages. It is important to remember that two-thirds of our nation’s deaths by firearms are suicides. While I have never once wished that I had a gun for self-defense, I am grateful that I did not have one available for my son to take his own life. As I see the headline stories about single-shooter rampages, I have deep concerns about what my other son’s intentions might be.

My younger son believes that while he was in U.S. Army boot camp, one of the required vaccines contained a super-high-technology, microscopic device that implanted deep into his brain. Through this device, secret agents can hear his thoughts and transmit their voices into his head.

While he is well aware that his brother and other close relatives have schizophrenia, he knows that he is perfectly sane. The voices in his head are actual transmissions from an outside source, and therefore they are not hallucinations. His delusion provides all the “evidence” that he needs to support its validity. As if that weren’t enough, he has found plenty of support among the Internet community.

I was proud when I was able to dissuade him from purchasing his first gun two years ago, but I was unable to repeat this success. He now owns two shotguns, a military rifle and four handguns, including two that are semiautomatic. He is convinced that he needs all these weapons for self-defense.

I can never get a clear answer regarding what possible threat would require so many guns in the hands of a single individual. However, he does allude to something big in the works. The agents who transmit their voices into his head are, apparently, planning some kind of global takeover that will require individuals to be heavily armed in order to resist.

I have contemplated various ways that I might intervene to take away his guns, but all of them would require that I violate the law. My son had no difficulty passing the background check, as he has never been officially diagnosed as mentally ill, nor convicted of any felony. He is within the law regarding the number of firearms that he owns, and the quantity of ammunition that he has acquired for them. And he was already old enough to legally purchase these things before he ever manifest any symptoms of schizophrenia. Even if there had ever been some kind of effective screening process in place to recognize his mental illness, he could have owned his guns before it came on.

I have spoken with him many times about my concerns and I have begged him to accept some kind of treatment for his condition. In addition to schizophrenia, he is seriously alcoholic and predisposed to unprovoked rage. Actually, he believes that his rage is always provoked, but an outside observer would have difficulty seeing any provocation.

I take small comfort in the knowledge that the overwhelming majority of deranged and heavily armed gun freaks in the United States never go on a murderous rampage. Otherwise, such incidents would occur many times every day. I pray that my son will accept some kind of treatment, and that his guns will never be used to kill himself or anyone else.

I don’t pretend to have any answer for the current debate about gun violence in America. I only know that I would feel a lot safer if it were more difficult for people such as my own son to legally amass private arsenals of firearms and ammunition. My son firmly believes that the Second Amendment is the sacrosanct authority for his right to “bear arms.” However, he was completely baffled by the question when I asked him which “well regulated militia” he had joined to preserve “the security of a free state.”

— Robert Northup is a Davis resident.

Special to The Enterprise

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