Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Disentangling Guns and Mental Health

Where to begin?

#1. Violence cannot be predicted. Even a “mental health evaluation” prior to buying, using, acquiring, even borrowing a gun could not assure. Unless such a person indicates in a clear and convincing way that they intend immanently to harm a person or persons or an identifiable property, there is no way to predict violence other than self-report. That would include violence against themselves, of course. Don't believe me? Go and read the extensive literature on the prediction of violence: In the absence of a specific threat, there is no way that violence can be predicted. No matter how mentally ill, deranged, or criminally inclined the person may be. (Mental illness is no predictor!)

#2. Mental health professionals, in the course of their normal work, are legally obligated to protect confidentiality. Why? Well, in addition to the right to privacy guaranteed patients by the Constitution, psychotherapy simply cannot be conducted except under the most confidential circumstances. Trust is vital for a psychotherapy relationship. If you imagine, as gun adherents would like you to believe, that the mental health system should function like a system of parole officers, complete with surveillance capability, then you have swallowed a “red herring” argument. Don't be fooled!

#3. Mental health services, especially services for the severely mentally ill, are sorely in need of expansion and improvement in this country. But that is a separate issue, totally apart from the crying need to regulate and decrease gun purchases, ownership, and use in this country – which is a job for law enforcement and legislators, not mental health professionals.

#4. Any proposed evaluation of persons for the use or possession of firearms should be conducted ONLY by trained law enforcement individuals, for example police psychologists or other trained law enforcement investigators. This would shield mental health professionals from being put in the position of signing affidavits or applications related to firearms. (This is not their job!) It would also put gun owners, purchasers, or users on notice that the police will have their name on file, that the desire to exercise second amendment rights, at the very least, has some connection with a well regulated militia (as stated in the Constitution).

Pie in the sky? Frankly, I don't care. For it's high time the real issues were addressed. Frankly. And goodness, if the military can account for every rifle issued, and can revoke that rifle if a service person shows signs of misusing it, then we as a society have the right to know that our local police department, sheriff's office, local FBI (you name it) knows the whereabouts of every firearm in the vicinity and has a record of everyone who proposes to use a gun in that vicinity or elsewhere. This is only common sense!

#5. You want to get some revenue? Then include a cost for all this. It costs $465 to file for a green card now or to make use of the new presidential order allowing young residential aliens to have an immunity period. Assess a similar cost and use a similar lengthy process when it comes to firearms. Yearly renewal license fees would yield additional revenue. And very high penalties, monetary and legal,should accompany falsification of documents or illegal retention (or use) of firearms, etc. With strong enforcement of those penalties.  Oh, and let's not forget the limitation of ammunition and the fee to purchase that as well.

It goes without saying that any type of assault weapon, any type of large magazine, would be banned across the board.

Make this process costly. Make it onerous. Provide monetary incentives for those who turn in weapons rather than pay the costly fees every year. I suspect it would ultimately decrease weapons in circulation.  (In our state it now costs $75 for yearly car registration.  How many folks could afford to spend that on multiple weapons?  That alone should reduce the number of unnecessary arsenals.)

Maybe another time I'll design a good mental health system...


Mary O'Grady said...

You forgot one thing that people hardly ever think about: some mental health professionals are dangerously nuts.
My own father spent more than a decade as a raging alcoholic, complete with bouts of D.T.'s and domestic violence, all the while practicing psychiatry, He was such a charmer that everybody covered for him-- his secretary, nurses... Who could imagine a psychiatrist failing a background check to buy a weapon? (My mother and siblings and I periodically had to hide out at some kind neighbors' because he was a gun owner.)

TheraP said...

Thanks for this helpful addendum, Mary. There's no doubt that the mental health of the evaluator needs to be taken into account. For this or any type of evaluation.