Dr. Jonathan Metzl speaks on Mental Illness, Mass Shootings, and the Politics of American Firearms at Virginia Tech

Dr. Jonathan Metzl, Professor of Psychiatry and Director of the Center for Medicine, Health, and Society, Vanderbilt University speaks at the “Mental Health and Social Change” symposium hosted by the history department at Virginia Tech University

Thursday, March 20, 2014, 7:30 PM, Robeson 210

This talk explores the historical and sociological connections between gun violence, mass shootings, and mental illness. Dr. Metzl will begin by discussing the American political and media responses to the December, 2012 mass shooting in Newtown, Connecticut. In the aftermath of that horrific crime, the state of New York passed a bill that required mental-health professionals to report “dangerous patients” to local officials, National Rifle Association vice president Wayne LaPierre’s called for a “national registry” of persons with mental illness, and conservative commentator Ann Coulter provocatively claimed that “guns don’t kill people–the mentally ill do.” Then Dr. Metzl will systematically and critically examine three central assumptions that underlie these and other associations between mental illness and gun crime: (1), that mental illness “causes” gun violence; (2), that psychiatric diagnosis can predict gun crime before it happens; and (3), that mentally ill shooters are “dangerous loners.” Building on the work of Jeffrey Swanson and others, Dr. Metzl will discuss how mass shootings represent statistical aberrations that reveal more about particular instances than they do about population-level actions. And, how decisions about which crimes American culture diagnoses as “crazy” and which crimes it labels as “sane” are driven as much by the politics and anxieties of particular cultural moments as by the actions of individually disturbed brains. The lecture concludes with discussion around the limitations of a system in which questions of whether “the insane” should be allowed to bear arms become the only publically permissible ways to talk about questions of gun control.

This talk is free and open to the public.

This event is sponsored by the South Atlantic Humanities Program, supported by the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences.

If you have any questions, please contact Matt Heaton, Department of History (mheaton@vt.edu).