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.