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Op-Ed: Mental Illness, Gun Control, And The Hypocrisy Of Hollywood

All opinion articles are the opinion of the author and not necessarily of American Military News. If you are interested in submitting an op-ed please email [email protected]


I recently had a brief exchange with a celebrity over this very topic and what shocked me more than anything was his immediate response to the story American Military News had posted.  His immediate response to me personally was to defend his movie role instead of addressing the very issue as to why he wrote his opinion piece to begin with: his veteran nephew who grappled with depression/suicidal thoughts and eventually took his own life with a firearm.  Now the mother of this young man, Wendy Burkle and former sister-in-law of Mr. Arnold, has weighed in on what he wrote by saying,

“His dad and I would like to let everyone know that we believe that (Tom Arnold) has embellished the story to make it Hollywood worthy.”  

I’m sure that this won’t be the end of the war of words between the two nor will it be the end of the debate on using ‘mental illness’ as an excuse for more gun control.  

The National Institute for Mental Health, a federal government site, lists its recommendations for suicide prevention and gun control isn’t one of them but yet some in Hollywood would have you believe it would stop suicides; a fallacy that keeps getting repeated over and over when the real issue is treating sufferers mental illness.   

Mr. Arnold stated in his opinion piece,

“Just having visited and entertained in war zones like Afghanistan, I have a good idea why we are now dealing with a PTSD and gun-suicide epidemic in this country. I know how hard it is for actively serving military to ask for help. It goes against every bit of training we give them and behavior we demand of them. It’s seen as a weakness, the opposite of heroic — which of course makes asking for help the bravest thing our servicemen and women can do.”

I know how hard it is for actively serving military to ask for help. It goes against every bit of training we give them and behavior we demand of them – This statement alone should be the very reason why it’s mental illness that needs the attention and not more gun control.  Additionally, he’s correct to a degree, there is a stigma attached to those who would seek help but it’s not solvable through more gun control, it is through education and friends/family support.  

Regardless if Mr. Arnold embellished his opinion piece or not, his position is quite clear: more gun control but now make mental illness the blanket reason not to pass a background check.  I came across an excellent opinion piece on mental illness and gun control and although it was published in 2005, it is spot on and true to this day.  The Guns & Ammo staff gave a clear and concise argument as to why using mental illness as a blanket reason for gun control using these two main reasons:

This passage from the Guns & Ammo piece sums it up nicely:

“Some anti-gun organizations have suggested that all mentally ill individuals should be prohibited from purchasing firearms. Just for the sake of argument, how would one go about identifying all mentally ill people?

The former U.S. Surgeon General estimates that 20 percent of Americans suffer from some type of mental illness. How would mental illness be defined?

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services says that “mental illness is any diagnosable, behavioral or emotional disorder that interferes with or limits a person’s ability to live, work, learn and participate fully in the community.”

Such a broad definition could easily be applied to more than 20 percent of the population. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV), the bible of the mental health profession, even lists cigarette smoking and coffee drinking as mental illnesses.”

Smokers and coffee drinkers beware, you all suffer from “mental illness” and according to some celebrities, that’s grounds for not passing a background check for a firearm.   That’s just about every single legal adult in the United States using that logic, but that’s what this label of using ‘mental illness’ as a broad brush to stop suicide by firearm.  

Hollywood and its hypocrisy on this issue never ceases to amaze me; it’s almost as if some of these celebrities expect “Minority Report” to become a real thing where future crimes, or God forbid, suicide by firearm, will be able to be predicted and stopped before it happens.  From the Guns & Ammo piece,

“In a statement, the [American Psychological Association] APA cautioned that ‘psychiatrists have no special knowledge or ability with which to predict dangerous behavior’ by patients.”  

Additionally, these are very same celebrities continue to take on gun-toting roles while they themselves own firearms.  A a person who suffers from mental illness is free to watch one of these gun-toting movies, so why aren’t they refusing to make these movies and/or even stopping someone with mental illness from watching one?  Surely a person suffering from mental illness is highly impressionable and the example being set in a gun-toting movie either glorifies gun violence of some kind (yes, I’m being sarcastic). 

What about those same celebrities clamoring for more gun control who happen to own guns and are quick to label mental illness as a reason to fail a background check?  Mr. Arnold stated this in his opinion piece about guns and how some view them:

“They represent liberty to some people, and the Constitution itself. Some even equate guns to religion. A gift to Americans directly from God himself. That sounds crazy to me. It should be on the gun test: If you truly believe your metal tool/explosive device is a gift from above, then you should be deemed insane and unfit to legally own a gun.”  

He’s a gun owner himself and now passes himself off as a pseudo-psychiatrist with that reckless statement and it gives one the impression that if someone said something that Mr. Arnold thought was “crazy,” that person would be “deemed insane and unfit to legally own a gun.”  What if the tables were turned?  His opinion piece, now being called an embellishment that’s “Hollywood worthy,” by the mother of his nephew could label him as a ‘pathological liar’ and/or ‘compulsive liar,’ a mental illness that is well-documented in several published psychology pieces.  So if I were to use his logic, he’s technically unfit to own a firearm.  

More gun control laws will not do a thing to someone who wants to take his/her own life and to use the position of celebrity to push gun control agenda while owning firearms and making movies with firearms, screams utter hypocrisy.  Breaking the stigma of seeking help for mental illness is the problem and the need for placing emphasis the education, treatment, and support for those who are suffering is tantamount but being ignored by some who only have their sights set on firearms.  These celebrities calling for more gun control laws because the “mentally ill” are a danger to themselves don’t really care about treating mental illness, they care about gun control agenda or their dying careers or both.

If you or someone you know is suffering from mental illness and is suicidal, please seek help immediately; one life given up to suicide is one life too many.  For our veterans/troops who are hurting, Battle In Distress is a non profit organization “that connects Veterans and currently serving members of the United States Armed Forces who are in or at risk for being in mental, emotional, financial, or psychological distress to the individuals, organizations, government entities, or other entities that provide services or assistance that can ameliorate the underlying problems that lead them to a state of distress.”  You’ll never walk alone.


Theresa Giarratano is a retired US Army NCO studying Middle Eastern affairs with special emphasis on global terrorism. Her current status is assisting the Kurdish people by disseminating information regarding the fight against ISIS via social media platforms.