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Wednesday, June 26, 2019
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Mental Health and Gun Control, ? Aid for Control of Violence – Conclusions and Suggestions #1


1.    Connections between mental illness and gun violence are complicated, and not as directly causal as the NRA, other gun advocates, or the anti-gun lobby would have the public believe. It is not as simple as “guns don’t kill people, people do.” The social, historical, economic, educational, ideological, and political biases of subpopulations of the United States factor into decisions about gun use, gun abuse, the criminal justice system, laws about possession of, and gun usage, the right to privacy versus the right to protection of life and property, and the power of advocacy, including the abuse of that power.

The definition of mental illness is a fluid one, but one that must be made if the country is to have an efficacious, fair, and universal, application for the purposes of personal and public safety. Mental health experts can determine such a definition, but they cannot predict individual behavior in the majority of instances. My suggestion is to go back to the 1968 definition of when the mentally ill can and should be prevented from any access to guns. Anyone who has been involuntarily committed to a mental health treatment facility for three months should be barred forever from gun access or use; anyone who is determined to be a danger to self or others as a result of a mental illness until his or her mental illness improves to the point of safety with quarterly re-evaluations by competent experts when requested by the mentally ill person. Anyone who communicates to a health care professional that he or she has murderous thoughts or intends to do harm to others needs to be prevented from owning or using firearms.

The specific disqualifications related to mental health are currently quite narrow. Under federal law, an individual is prohibited from buying or possessing firearms if they have been “adjudicated as a mental defective” or “committed to a mental institution.” A person is “adjudicated as a mental defective” if a court — or other entity having legal authority to make adjudications — has made a determination that an individual, as a result of mental illness: 1) Is a danger to himself or to others; 2) Lacks the mental capacity to contract or manage his own affairs; 3) Is found insane by a court in a criminal case, or incompetent to stand trial, or not guilty by reason of lack of mental responsibility pursuant to the Uniform Code of Military Justice. A person is “committed to a mental institution” if that person has been involuntarily committed to a mental institution by a court or other lawful authority. This currently expressly excludes voluntary commitment. This author disagrees with that compromise arrived at in the exclusion of voluntary commitment clause. I firmly believe that every commitment should be a reason for disqualification for gun ownership or use. If a person falls under one of these two categories, they are prohibited from purchasing and possessing firearms for life–although federal law now allows states to establish procedures for such individuals to restore their right to purchase or possess firearms. Further, it is this author’s opinion that the prohibitions against owning or using firearms should also extend to persons who have been or are currently under a court-ordered conservatorship because they are, by definition, “gravely disabled” as a result of a mental disorder. The onus is on the gravely disabled person to prove competency and safety owing to successful treatment at some future date if that is what the person desires. Any person prohibited from having access to firearms for any reason, must agree to waive his or her privacy rights as part of the process to regain such rights.

A 2014 report by the Treatment Advocacy Center, a nonprofit aimed at removing the stigma of mental illness and barriers to treatment, analyzed the state of mental commitment laws state by state, looking at both the “quality of involuntary treatment (civil commitment) laws which facilitate emergency hospitalization during a psychiatric emergency and the availability of court orders mandating continued treatment as a condition of living in a community.” There must be both common sense mental commitment laws and appropriate gun laws. Mel Robbins asked, “Do we as a society have reason to intervene? To answer ‘yes,’ we must believe there is a compelling societal imperative beyond preventing imminent injury or death–an imperative to liberate a person from a hellish existence he would never–in his “right mind”–choose…The truth is that commitment laws shouldn’t [only] be a stopgap to prevent imminent harm, but rather seen as an essential tool to help a loved one needing treatment before things reach the imminent harm stage.”

2.    Drug use to excess, drug abuse, and drug addiction, including alcohol and legally prescribed drugs, should preclude the right to have or to use a gun for any purpose for a period of six months with mandatory review at the first six months, then once a year thereafter until the person is judged to no longer have a drug problem. After eighteen months, if the person is found to be free of drug dependency and no longer to be a danger to self or others, the person may appeal for reinstatement of gun ownership and/or use privileges. Review is mandatory at one year thereafter. Gun use or ownership is automatically rescinded permanently for any infraction of the law regarding drug use or gun use as adjudicated by the justice system.

3.    For all of the complexities of defining mental illness and the difficulty of creating enforceable and fair laws, they must nevertheless be created; and they must be stringently enforced. Mental health workers cannot be made into scapegoats for a failed system; the responsibility must be shared and worked on regularly by qualified mental health workers, law enforcement officers, sociologists, churches, the judicial system in all of its branches (prosecution, defense, prisons, mental institutions, legislators, etc.) with an absolute requirement to share information which is deemed to be more important than privacy laws. At this point in time, according to Michael Corcoran, Ph.D., Mental Health Checks When Purchasing a Gun, “even when individuals do undergo a background check when buying a gun in this country, the screening for mental health history is cursory at best.” Mental health screening and background checks must become a mandatory part of the privilege of purchasing a gun and/or ammunition every time and in every place and by all buyers.

4.    While it is self-evident to almost all students of the mental illness/drug abuse/and judicial system that there is a genuine and persisting problem in place, the conundrum must be simplified to the point that understandable and enforceable laws can be made. While it is indubitably true that there are other factors such as ignorance, ill-education, poverty, conditioning into an ideology that justifies gun violence, and sympathy for the drug abuser or mentally ill person or the poor or minority person, those factors must be an area of ongoing study but not a factor for excusing violence. There has been enough killing and enough obscuring talk; it is time to join forces to stop the killing.

5.    In at least this one instance, partisan politics and opinion needs to be set aside; so, the killing can stop.

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