I am grateful for President's Obama's recent efforts to advocate for increased awareness of mental illness and the challenges of living with it or caring for someone who does. I have been truly horrified and discouraged when I learn of violent crimes committed by people with a history of mental illness.
However, I am also choosing to be honest enough to admit that despite having a "seriously mentally ill" designation complete with many applicable psychiatric diagnoses, I did purchase a gun for myself a few years back. I am also a member of American Mensa, which means that I apparently have an IQ score ranging among the top 2 percent of the general population.
I had what I consider to be very rational reasons for my gun purchase but did view the idea with significant trepidation. I am a licensed, practicing health-care professional and much of my work has been in remote, rural areas of the state.
Though I am a fairly tall and strong man, I honestly did worry about my ability to successfully defend myself in the event that my car had broken down during my very long (sometimes 100-mile-plus) commutes to these remote worksites. I feared having an unanticipated encounter with one or more assailants who would threaten to harm me or vandalize or steal my vehicle, my only available means of transportation to work.
I therefore reasoned that having a gun was my best choice - and best chance for survival - were such a frightening event to occur. I should also note that I have no criminal history, arrest record or history of violence. However, I have frequently been a victim of violence in my life, beginning with ongoing parental child abuse and school bullying throughout most of my childhood and continuing even to instances of workplace bullying in my adult and professional life, all of which I attribute substantially to my lifelong reality of living with mental illness and its accompanying vulnerabilities.
I took the prospect of owning a weapon very seriously and felt a strong sense of personal responsibility to become adequately educated regarding gun operation and safety. I successfully completed two gun-education classes at a local marksmanship store several weeks before my gun purchase. These courses were very well-taught in a mature manner that strongly emphasized the absolute responsibility of the gun owner to safely secure and operate his or her weapon.
Compellingly, the instructor for both of these courses also shared with his students how he and his family had survived two previous home invasions. I felt that these expert-guided professional learning experiences greatly enhanced my confidence and preparation for responsible gun ownership.
Happily, to date I have yet to find myself in a vulnerable situation where I felt the need to use my gun, and I hope this never happens to me. I am sorry that the threat of violence ever happens to anyone, with or without gun involvement. But sadly, I still believe there are valid arguments for gun ownership and training, even for nonmilitary and non-law-enforcement individuals.
Violent crime is a sad and unpredictable reality. A gun can still be an appropriate and effective means of self-defense, for men and women, in such extreme circumstances. With this said, I strongly feel that there should be minimum statutory requirements for gun ownership, including professional gun training and mandatory permits. I believe that the Arizona Legislature acted recklessly when it voted against requiring such common-sense basic safety measures.
Lastly, though I acknowledge that each person's situation is ultimately unique, I have thankfully found that there are many available community mental health agencies in Tucson that help me maintain effective social and occupational functioning, when I make the effort to use them. I sincerely thank all of the wonderfully caring human beings employed by these agencies who help me be my best.
Scott Harrington is a practicing pharmacist and textbook author based in Tucson. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org