Evil or mental illness — does it matter?

President Barack Obama has been confronted with 17 mass shootings since assuming the presidency and has given six increasingly more frustrated statements about dealing with the problem.

The President, however, is not the only voice heard before the bodies of victims are cold. The National Rifle Association and its vocal advocates, without fail, produce meaningless statements such as — more people are killed in automobile accidents than with firearms and we don’t try to ban them by giving them percentage of people killed in mass shootings as almost statistically insignificant compared to the number of gun owners.

The NRA has issued no public statement since the shooting that killed nine at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston on Wednesday night,as of this writing. but NRA board member Charles Cotton contributed this comment about the Rev. Clementa C. Pinckney, the slain Pastor, and a state senator, to a discussion thread he moderates. “And he (Pickney) voted against concealed-carry. Eight of his church members who might be alive if he had expressly allowed members to carry handguns in church are dead. Innocent people died because of his position on a political issue.”

Yes, Mr. Cotton, blame the victim who invited his killer into the church — following a most ancient Christian tradition — for a prayer meeting rather than Dylann Storm Roof, the 21 year old, alleged killer who showed up with enough loaded magazines to kill all but one present, and reportedly said before the shooting began: “I’m here to kill black people,” and before fleeing the scene allegedly said this to the remaining adult member of the prayer meeting: “You’ve raped our women, and you are taking over the country … I have to do what I have to do.”

Within the rhetoric on both sides of the gun issue, I ran across several people discussing whether or not mass shooters are mentally ill or evil. Both psychopaths and sociopaths who are responsible for at least a large percentage of mass shootings have been declared by the psychiatric community to be suffering from an anti-social personality disorder, not traditional mental illness, which under the laws of most states is defined as the lack of ability to distinguish right from wrong at the time of the crime.

It‘s true that most people suffering from these anti-social personality disorders are not violent. They may be people who are at the top of the heap as salesmen, police officers, teachers or even members of the clergy — those in a position to manipulate other people. They generally know what they are doing is wrong and either don’t care or have justified it in their own minds, which precludes most successful insanity defenses.

Evil is a word in the moral, religious and spiritual realm. There have been psychiatrists, notably Scott Peck, a psychiatrist and author of People of the Lie who do view such behavior as a form of evil. I have neither the background nor education to make such a call. I do keep up, though, and research increasingly shows that while anyone can kill under certain circumstances, human beings are probably hard-wired to avoid harming fellow human beings if it can be avoided.

Those who become predators such as mass killers and serial killers, seem to be lacking something most of us have — whatever it is that makes us human. Whether evil or mental illness, those with no qualms about killing other human beings, should be locked away for the safety of everyone else until such time as they can be cured.

As for the lame statements of pro-gun fanatics, particularly the NRA, and those who labor under the delusion that weapons can or ever will be banned in this country need to learn the meaning of compromise. The NRA position that any compromise will lead to mass confiscation of all firearms is ridiculous, the result of paranoia. Two hundred years of tradition, the sheer number of firearms available and the 2nd Amendment used rationally, preclude such drastic methods.

A genuine registration of weapons — that can be saved and not deleted in a few hours; banning individual gun sales and trading by unlicensed individuals at gun shows; and a real effort to keep weapons out of the hands of the mentally ill and convicted felons would go a long way in cutting down mass shootings. True, it wouldn’t stop them altogether, but if changes prevented even one Sandy Hook, Columbine or the most recent massacre in Charleston, reasonable laws will have proven themselves valuable.

I don’t have all the answers, but answers are available and changes can be made when legislators. state and federal, decide to look out for the safety of the people rather than pandering to the cult of violence gripping this country.