Focusing on Gun Control for the Mentally Ill Is a Terrible Idea

Dr. Walter Freeman, left, and Dr. James W. Watts study an X-ray before a psychosurgical operation. Psychosurgery is cutting into the brain to form new patterns and rid a patient of delusions, obsessions, nervous tensions and the like.
Dr. Walter Freeman, left, and Dr. James W. Watts study an X-ray before a psychosurgical operation. Psychosurgery is cutting into the brain to form new patterns and rid a patient of delusions, obsessions, nervous tensions and the like.
Whenever America gets another installment in our daily soap opera All My Children (Will be in a Mass Shooting), there’s a familiar, almost comfortable way the national conversation will go. The President will say this can’t go on because pattern recognition is apparently not his strong suit; the stocks in various gun manufacturers will rise as consumers stockpile against the possibility of a gun seizure; and much chestbeating about freedom will serve as the drumbeat for various funeral processions. Mario games have bigger plot twists than America’s gun debate.

One thing that always comes up, often from both sides, is that we simply have to start getting better about keeping guns from the mentally ill. Gun control advocates seem fine with it, and even hardcore gun enthusiasts seem to find the mentally ill a convenient scapegoat to take the focus away from “responsible gun owners.” Let’s not address guys who shoot toddlers in the face while cleaning their weapons on Christmas morning or dudes who need a pistol to get the refund on their penis pump when there are maniacs on the loose! Here’s House Speaker Paul Ryan assuring us the mentally ill are the problem, and here’s Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid basically concurring on the issue. Whatever else happens, we have got to disarm these crazy folks.

Frankly, anyone who pushes this idea is ridiculous. Disarming the mentally ill is insulting, ableist and indicative of a very poor understanding of reality.

Now, this isn’t a pro-Second Amendment rant. As far as I’m concerned, the Second Amendment needs to go the way of poll taxes and whale-bone corsets. However, as it stands right now, the right to bear arms is a constitutionally protected one, and the right to have a gun for self-protection was upheld in the 2008 case District of Columbia v. Heller.

Every American should be very, very leery of anything that denies citizens their constitutional rights based on something they cannot help. It’s within my lifetime we had to pass a law protecting the ability of elderly and disabled people to vote by mandating polling places had wheelchair access. Not to mention the fact that historically many gun control initiatives were passed specifically to deny the right to blacks and Hispanics, and that Supreme Court decisions in 2013 and 2016 on marriage equality proved that we had been denying gay couples their constitutional rights under the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments. We don’t have the best track record in this regard, so caution is advised.

Prohibiting the mentally ill from owning guns would actually deny more people a constitutional right than any of the examples I just mentioned. One in four American adults experience mental illness each year, a number that far exceeds nearly every other American minority. So many people go on about how an armed populace is what stands between tyranny and freedom, and yet so many of the exact same people think disarming a quarter of the population is a perfectly fine solution.

More than that, how is this even supposed to be achieved? Will the right to own a gun be subjected to a certified bill of mental health from a medical professional, thereby requiring gun buyers to submit their own medical records to private businesses? Is it renewed annually or done on a sale-by-sale basis? Will insurance pay for that? Medicaid? Medicare? Do alcoholism and substance abuse count? Nearly half of all homicides in America involve booze, you know. Should attending Alcoholics Anonymous meetings be proof that people cannot be trusted with a gun because they have a disease, or is it proof they can be because they have a coping mechanism? Does a person being treated with medication count if he is doing well on it? We let people with terrible eyesight drive if they wear their glasses. Is this any different? 

Here’s a better question: What do we do about the gun ownership rights of the people living with the mentally ill?  Remember that the Sandy Hook Elementary shooter tried to buy his own guns and failed, so instead he killed his mother and took her arsenal on a deadly rampage. Will restrictions apply to the whole family or just the mentally ill person? If Nancy Lanza hadn’t had her guns or, at least, had them secured in a place her son didn’t have access to, a whole lot of children would still be alive today. On the other hand, that one-in-four Americans not protected by a constitutional right grows exponentially once you start adding their family members.

Focusing on keeping guns out of the hands of the mentally ill is a smokescreen at best and a vast abuse of a constitutional right at worse. People with mental illness are ten times more likely to be the victims of a violent crime than to cause one, making them already an extremely marginalized group. Just this year, a mentally ill patient at Houston's St. Joseph Medical Center, Alan Pean, was gunned down by an off-duty cop, putting the federal funding of the whole hospital in jeopardy. Michael Blair suffered a similar fate in 2013, as did Brian Church in 2012. All in all, nearly half of the people killed by police are mentally ill. The gun in these situations wasn’t being wielded by a sick person. It was being wielded by people in perfect mental health (and with that “proper training” I hear so much about) who ended up making poor decisions that cost lives.

I am all for more gun control, and if you’d like to see some good examples of what I think that looks like, you can read it here and here. I’m for the repeal of the Second Amendment considering most of the rest of the world gets along just fine, if not better, without one. What I’m not cool with is taking away a currently protected constitutional right from 62 million people in the name of preserving the feelings of gun owners who don’t want to realistically examine the systemic problem of gun violence or who and what leads to it. Liberal or conservative, Democrat or Republican, if you see anyone trying to “solve” the gun issue in America by hanging the mentally ill out to dry, that person is pandering or lying or simply doesn’t know what he or she is talking about.



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