Mental Troubles and Evil Are Not the Same Thing

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Relatives of the man who police say opened fire at a Florida airport report he had a history of mental health problems and was receiving psychological treatment at his home in Alaska.

Esteban Santiago, 26, retrieved his gun from his bag on the carousel, loaded it in a bathroom of the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport, then emerged shooting in the baggage-claim area Friday, killing five people and wounding eight, authorities said.

The suspect brought a gun in a checked bag on an Air Canada flight, officials said. “He claimed his bag and took the gun from baggage and went into the bathroom to load it. Came out shooting people in baggage claim,” Broward County Commissioner Chip LaMarca wrote on Facebook.

Guard spokesman Maj. Paul Dahlen said Santiago deployed to Iraq in 2010 as part of the Puerto Rico National Guard, spending a year with an engineering battalion.

The suspect’s uncle, Hernan Rivera, told The Record newspaper: “Only thing I could tell you was when he came out of Iraq, he wasn’t feeling too good.”

Why do we have to assume that either a person has mental problems, or that he’s evil — but it can never be both?

By definition, any evil person has mental problems. But the vast majority of people with mental issues or problems are not evil.

When you’re evil, you have broken with reality. You don’t care about the rights, needs, and wants of others and — in cases like this gunman, who sat and waited for the police after he silently slaughtered people in an airport — you often don’t care about your own wants or needs, either. This shooter was not the poster child for selfishness; he’s the poster child for a complete lack of self.

The media and chattering classes, as well as paid-off legal and medical/psychiatric professionals, will do their usual dance in the coming weeks and months. They will blame everyone but the gunman. The shooter’s self-evidently insane, they’ll say; so how could he really, truly be morally responsible?

Guns make people kill, we’ll be told; yet the vast majority of people who own guns will never kill with them. War makes veterans kill innocent civilians, we’ll be told; yet the vast majority of people who serve in the military, including wars, will never harm an innocent person, and would never dream of doing so. Lack of unspecified government funding makes people kill, the politicians will say; yet we’re already tens of trillions dollars in debt, and the more our government borrows and spends, the more the body count in these horrible slaughters grows. If there’s an answer to stopping the violence, it doesn’t seem that government spending is it.

As for Islam, when it’s eventually revealed that the killer was motivated by Islam — as it almost always is — then instead of looking at what ideas Islam encourages, we’re told to be ashamed of ourselves for daring to even suggest such a thing. And that we’re somehow “racist” and “haters” for questioning someone’s philosophical point-of-view when it so often leads to this kind of brutality.

The problem is that we keep making the world safe for people like this madman who opened fire on innocent people in the Ft. Lauderdale airport. We blame everyone but the killer, and we rush to claim that mental illness, not evil, makes it happen. I have news for you: The vast majority of people who suffer from emotional problems are not evil or dangerous. Most are self-defeating, but would never hurt a fly. There are extra elements that make a person into a criminal.

Mentally ill people — severely depressed people, for example — find it difficult to motivate themselves, to find the energy to do basic things, or even to make it through the day. Yet killers like this one find the energy, foresight and planning to obtain a weapon, the motivation to bring it on a long airplane trip and to decide on a time and a place to murder innocent people. Of course it’s madness. Of course he’s probably a depressed, wretched, unhappy and miserable human being. But does it ever occur to anyone that it could be something more, because evil is always something more?

We make the world safer for people like this by trying to explain their actions through the lens of mental health concepts that don’t apply, at least not sufficiently, in explaining the whole problem. And then while we’re at it, we create policies like “gun-free zones” where innocent people are forbidden to carry weapons in the event of a shooting, while killers don’t care. Anyone who thinks a gun-free zone is a good idea and will stop violence need only consider the fact that many of the places where these slaughters occur are gun-free zones. Evil people don’t care that it’s a gun-free zone, and they’re even more confident and motivated to follow through on what they do if they know there’s zero chance of anyone retaliating on the spot. If even one person who died in Ft. Lauderdale could have been saved by the lack of a gun-free zone policy, wouldn’t that have been worth it?

Killers, mentally disturbed or not, know what they’re doing. It takes energy, motivation and purpose (however warped) to pull something like this off. We forget that at our peril.

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