Comment Of The Day: “Comment Of The Day: ‘Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 11/7/17: Election Day Edition”’

“Well, sir, your background check came up fine! What kind of gun would you like to purchase?

As often happens, one excellent COTD, in this case JP’s examination of possible avenues of gun policy reforms, begat another, this one on a topic that I have been remiss is not posting about myself. John Billingsly writes about so called “mental health reform” in the context of gun control. Deciding that citizens should lose their rights because other judge them as mentally ill is a practice that should start the ethics alarms a-ringing, since this is a favored means of mind, speech and political activity control in totalitarian regimes.  I would think that the  idea would cause chills to run up the spine of any patriotic citizen, rightish or leftish, especiall when “the resistance’ wants to veto a Presidential election by declaring that President Trump’s boorish style and on the wrong side of history policies prove he is mentally disabled. I’m sure they think he shouldn’t be allowed to purchase a gun. Calm, reasonable, rational types like Howard Dean, Maxine Waters and Michael Moore, sure.

I don’t see any dangers to our rights when gun possession is withheld from someone who proclaims he is Shiva the destroer while running naked through the streets waving a dead badger overhead. As we have seen, however, in this area anti-gun zealots are counting on the slippery slope. Taking away rights based on what someone might do begins to edge into pre-crime.

Here is John Billingsly’s Comment of the Day on the post, Comment Of The Day: “Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 11/7/17: Election Day Edition”:

I want to elaborate on one statement, ”I believe for any serious debate to continue on gun control, we have to have mental health reform. “

I agree that there needs to be more access to mental health care, but it appears from current data there is only one area where contact with the mental health system seems to correlate with significantly increased risk of death by firearm and that is suicide. About 60% of deaths involving firearms are suicide and about 50% of successful suicide attempts are by firearm.

The major predictor of future violence is a history of violence not the presence or absence of mental illness. I believe anyone who has been found to be guilty of an act of violence, including any kind of domestic violence, should be denied the right to purchase a firearm. My understanding is that this is pretty much the law although there have been slip ups in administering it.

A group of people who do show a high incidence of violent behavior are substance abusers. Anyone convicted of a drug or alcohol offense should be prohibited from being able to legally acquire a firearm. There should be a mechanism to allow for the restoration of the right to buy a firearm in those cases such as simple possession where no violence was involved, and the conviction did not involve a more serious crime such as trafficking. Just from my anecdotal experience, people under the influence of drugs have been the most dangerous, unpredictable patients I have had to deal with.

The laws requiring reporting of persons with mental illness vary from state to state. Florida follows the Federal Law that prohibits possession of a firearm or ammunition by any person who has been “adjudicated a mental defective” or involuntarily “committed to any mental institution.” Persons who fall into these categories are reported to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement who maintains a database. The FDLE is authorized to report these to the federal government and other states exclusively for the purpose of determining lawfulness of a firearm sale or transfer. The information may also be used to make decisions regarding a concealed carry permit. There is a mechanism in the law for restoration of rights.

In Florida a person who seeks voluntary hospitalization may be determined to meet the same criteria as an involuntarily committed person under certain circumstances. The treating provider must certify that they are imminently dangerous, they must be allowed a chance to challenge the certification as to their dangerousness, and the court must review the certification and order the record to be submitted.

The American Psychiatric Association put out a “Position Statement on Firearm Access, Acts of Violence and the Relationship to Mental Illness and Mental Health Services.” It is freely available on-line. For the most part, I think the statement is fairly level headed and is consistent with the Second Amendment. They recommend the obvious such as background checks and safe storage but also endorsed gun free zones which I don’t feel are effective. They asked for more research into gun violence and endorsed more training for providers and more public education. They make the statement, “Reasonable restrictions on gun access are appropriate, but such restrictions should not be based solely on a diagnosis of mental disorder.” Their statement acknowledges that gun ownership is a right and makes the point that the criteria to limit the right should be carefully defined and the right should not be removed due to non-adjudicated events. They also emphasize that a person who has had their rights removed must have a fair opportunity to have them restored.

An article from Oct 2017 in Psychiatric Services looked at 838 state prison inmates who were violent gun offenders and compared those with and without a history of psychiatric hospitalization. Those who had been hospitalized were only 12% of the sample. They were less likely to victimize strangers and were no more likely to commit gun violence in public or have multiple victims. Among those with previous hospitalizations, 78% obtained guns from sources not subject to federal background checks and of the total of 1,041 victims of gun violence only 3% were victims of a perpetrator with prior hospitalization who obtained a gun legally. That is, prohibiting person who had been psychiatrically hospitalized from legally obtaining a gun would have reduced the number of gun violence victims by 3%.

There are mental health issues that should be addressed such as better access to care, research to help improve prediction of violence, and of course continued efforts to reduce suicide whether committed by guns or other means. This may reduce gun deaths by a small percentage. But the evidence seems clear that just automatically taking access to guns from everyone who has been diagnosed as mentally ill will not result in any significant reduction in total gun deaths, will not stop mass shootings, and will likely deter many people from seeking help due to fear of losing their rights. And, except in those cases where the individual has gone through the legal process of commitment which already makes the possession of firearms illegal, it would mean removing a right without due process.

Jack’s statement in #3 of the Warm-Up today, ”Mass shootings are a side effect of the Second Amendment and the core individual right to be armed. The only way to reduce such shootings is to eliminate that right and confiscate guns” is the bottom line fact.

14 thoughts on “Comment Of The Day: “Comment Of The Day: ‘Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 11/7/17: Election Day Edition”’

  1. The incidence of mental health issues in the US is not substantially different from that in other advanced countries.
    The level of gun ownership in the US is however massively higher.
    And, the incidence of gun-related deaths is also massively higher in the US.
    The correlation is OBVIOUSLY with guns, not with mental health.
    Why are people denying this very clear correlation?

    • Are they? Mental illness plus access to guns= More crazy people shooting people. It’s fair to say that anyone who shoots strangers outside of warfare and law enforcement is mentally ill.

      The wrong and wrong headed approach of the anti-gun left is to try to curb the rights of the vast, vast a majority of citizens to prevent the abuse of those rights by the evil and crazed. The number of guns cannot be reduced to a level that makes a difference any other way. So, being realistic about that (or honest, which anti-gun zealots are generally not), the reasonable approach is to find ways to reduce the number of people who are inclined to abuse the right.

      It’s a simple equation, and only two parts to deal with.

  2. Charles: I can also correlate that the amount of chewing gum consumed directly correlates to shootings as well. You know full well that correlation does not prove causation. If mental illness is similar across nations then what is their suicide victims preferred modality? Does the rate of suicide fall in countries with stricter gun measure? If 50% of the successful suicides are from firearms in the US so what. The tool is not the issue. Assume three equally populated nations and each has a suicide rates of 1 per 100,000 persons if countries A and B ban guns and Country C has a massive number of guns does it change the rate of suicide? NO.

    Jack you said:
    “Are they? Mental illness plus access to guns= More crazy people shooting people. It’s fair to say that anyone who shoots strangers outside of warfare and law enforcement is mentally ill.”

    If all people shooting other people would qualify as mentally defective then no one would be convicted. As Mr. Billingsley pointed out 60% of homicides are suicides so they are not shooting others. He neglected to mention that the vast majority of suicides are older males. One must ask why are older males disproportionately afflicted by a desire to end his life. Do they feel that their lives have no meaning? Have they been pushed out of their vocation in favor of younger cheaper workers? Are they tired of being cast as irredeemable because they have “old fashioned” values of work and reward. Are they simply tired of paying for the mistakes of others. I have no idea. One thing for sure is that they have lost all hope for a better future. The aforementioned reasons are pure conjecture on my part. But, for males whose identity and value are directly correlated to their vocation or profession, the sudden loss of control in their finances, reputations, and other identity issues my conjecture is plausible. The solution to this problem will be far different than dealing with the psychopathic or sociopathic killers.

    No doubt, and I agree that mass killers have mental defects but the everyday thug who shoots 2 or 3 rival gang members is not mentally ill but one who simply cares little about the sanctity of life. His/her immediate wants must be gratified at any cost. That is a learned behavior. The gun, the gang, the money – and all that that brings – give these shooters a gratifying sense of power that they feel they can get no where else. Who teaches the thug that life has little value and that his/her wants and need supersede the rights of others? I have my ideas.

    We have to stop looking for silver bullet solutions to stem the number of firearm deaths. This means we must debate the issues of involuntary commitments and the societal implications of making such commitments easier. We must face head the issues of older male suicide to determine proximate causes that can be mitigated in advance. Finally, we must consider what length of sentence for gun crimes works as a deterrent such that the risk/reward tradeoff becomes too costly. Perhaps this means mandatory 50 year sentences for using a weapon in the commission of a felony – or worse.

    Using the availability of firearms as the reason for gun related deaths fails to legitimately address the real issues that lead to behaviors of some who cause harm and despair to their communities and families.

    • “Using the availability of firearms as the reason for gun related deaths fails to legitimately address the real issues that lead to behaviors of some who cause harm and despair to their communities and families.”

      Chris, you’re just repeating the same red herring argument, that the real issue here is mental illness, not gun availability.

      That would have some merit were it not for the fact that the disparities are so huge – on the order of 900% higher death rates to guns in this country compared to other countries, and much higher in some.

      Mental illness plus knives or pistols = a certain amount of deaths, anywhere.
      Mental illness plus semi-automatic rifles, much less those tricked-out still-legal bump stocks = massive increases in death rates.

      How is this not hard to get?

    • Mentally or emotionally disabled or defective is not legally insane. Legally insane requires that a killer not be able to determine right from wrong, thus lacking mens rea. Few, if any, of the mass shooters would qualify.

      Anyone who thinks shooting people is justified is crazy. But still legally culpable, in the vast majority of cases.

      • That makes sense. Charles’ does not. It is not a red herring to argue that prevalence of a tool to commit mayhem is not a causal condition. Sure, if something is more available then it is used more often. It is grossly misleading to compare homicide by gun in the US with its many weapons against a nation with a virtual ban on private ownership. What must be compared is the number of homicides per capita. Then, we need to examine many other socioeconomic differences between the nations. US drug policy may play a significant role in turf protection violence. We have seen first hand that mass killing does not require a firearm. The red herring is the argument that a guns only purpose is to kill. Those who use that arguement want us all to believe that firearms are only used by the offense and never defense.

        Using Charles’ logic then the prevalence of machetes in Ruwanda caused the Hutu massacre of Tutsi.

    • Chris M says, ” Does the rate of suicide fall in countries with stricter gun measure? If 50% of the successful suicides are from firearms in the US so what. The tool is not the issue.”

      For the most part he is correct, the tool is not the issue. Cultural and demographic factors are the primary variables in suicide rates. Chris looks at this in his second paragraph and asks some excellent questions about why there is a higher rate of suicide among older men.

      The availability of firearms does not necessarily correlate with the rate of suicide. The overall rate of suicide in the Unites States, where there are more guns than people, is 12.6. [Statistics are from various recent sources and you may find some variance depending on the source and year. All rates are rate/100,000]. The developed country with the highest rate of suicide is South Korea at 24.1 and Japan’s rate of 15.4 is also higher than that of the US. In both Korea and Japan, it is virtually impossible for a civilian to acquire a firearm.

      Chris notes that older males are more likely to commit suicide. Without going into the actual rates, it is true that men commit suicide at a rate 3.5 X that of women. Older people commit suicide more frequently than younger. Whites and American Indians have rates that are very similar, and which are about two to three times higher than the rates for Blacks or Asian/Pacific Islanders. The rate for Whites has shown a continuing increase whereas the other rates are about stable.

      The statistics most horrifying to me concern suicide by veterans. Keep in mind the fact that the overall rate of suicide in the US is 12.6. In women who have never served in the military the rate is 5.2 and among women who have served it is 28.7. The corresponding rates for men are 20.9 and 32.1. The VA estimated that in 2014, 20 veterans per day died by suicide.

      There is one reason why the tool used to attempt suicide is important and that is lethality. People who attempt by firearm have a much greater chance of succeeding on their first attempt than those who resort to most other means. The majority of people who survive their first attempt do not make another. Not having access to an immediately lethal means of suicide may make a difference to those people who make an impulsive attempt in a moment of great despair. That factor is less important to those who make well-planned attempts. They will find a suitable tool as they do in Korea and Japan.

      The bottom line regarding suicide is as Chris indicates, it’s not about the tool it’s about the why. To find effective interventions, the focus must be on the why.

  3. Hey, good thing the French and Belgians prohibit gun ownership. They haven’t had any terrorists use AK-47s to kill anyone! No guns, not mass murders. How hard is that to understand?

  4. John Billingsly needs to go into the Ethics Alarms Commentor Hall of Fame.
    Always lucid, authoritative and informative. Tremendous.

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