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Steve Chapman looks at lawmakers' bold ideas to prevent another Virginia Tech massacre.

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  • ||

    Despite than the fact that this was practically a verbatim regurgitation of last week's "60 Minutes", I agree. This is a case of the perfect being the enemy of the good, and this would be a good law.

  • Jacob||

    Would ADD count?

  • withheld||

    The problem with reporting someone in Cho's position is that it can happen to someone who is very much NOT mentally defective. I am a prime example. I was very depressed once many years ago, so depressed that I didn't do anything but cry for days. I never threatened anyone. I have never before or since threatened anyone. But, I was given a 72 hour hold, like Cho, because people were rightly worried about me. After the 72h, I was released with a "clean" bill of health, also like Cho. I wasn't medicated. The only reccommendation given by the psychiatrist was to seek some outpatient counciling. I am and have always been a pacifist, one who would probably fail to pull the trigger even in a situation that called for it. That said, I really enjoy target shooting. As long as the target isn't alive. The 72 hour hold used in my and Cho's cases is applied very commonly and easily precicely because it carries no official diagnosis. To revoke a basic right because of an administrative decision that requires no doctor's opinion or burden of proof seems quite excessive.

  • Molon Labe||

    Won't be long before gun control nuts stretch the definition of mental illness to include unpopular political and social views.

  • ||

    "It is unconscionable to restrict people's civil rights because they have a medical illness," said Nada Stotland, vice president of the American Psychiatric Association.

    It would? What about Typhoid Mary?

    Involuntary commitment to a hospital is a restriction of civil rights, too. Is the Vice President of the APA saying there should be NO involuntary commitment ever?

  • ||

    And it's ridiculous to claim that barring them from getting guns punishes them for having a medical illness.

    Ah yes, the ol' "This is so 'ridiculous' I can't even believe I'm responding to it".

    Unlike most (all other?) libertarians, I'm not philosophically opposed to gun control. But there is no libertarian argument here. This guy is firmly of the leftist "I know best and we will all be better off with a law that will stop people from doing this bad thing." stripe.

  • ||

    Warren,

    You DON'T think you know better than, say, a paranoid schizophrenic with a history of violence who's been judged by a court of law to be a danger to himself and others, whether it's a good idea for him to have a gun?

  • ||

    What are the actual statistics on the number of rampaging heavily armed mentally ill people in relation to the total number of "mental defectives" (lovely term)? If they commit crimes at a lower rate than blacks or Mexicans or rednecks or any other group, should we start restricting the rights of those groups too, which the same (apparently) unimpeachable logic? Will Reason readers fall in line for that, too?

  • stephen the goldberger||

    Perhaps reasonable Gun control can be acomblished as a parallel to Car Control? The government tries to work and ensure only safe drivers are out on the road through a system of penalties and testing, maybe similar concepts can be applied to guns?

    or maybe that's a slippery slope to try and stand upon.

  • ||

    Squoo,

    No one (except you) is talking about restricting the rights of people based on belonging to a "group," even the group called "mentally ill people."

    This is about about the rights of specific individuals.

  • ||

    I'm an NRA lifer and a Texas Concealed Handgun instructor. I favor broader listing of those with mental problems BUT I support the proposition ONLY if there is a procedure to get one's name off the list. There is a problem if a single incident strips a person of the free exercise of a recognized right for a lifetime. Currently, Congress does not fund the BATFE's department which removes the restrictions of rights. Once you're on the denied list, you're there forever. That is wrong.

  • ||

    "You DON'T think you know better than, say, a paranoid schizophrenic with a history of violence who's been judged by a court of law to be a danger to himself and others, whether it's a good idea for him to have a gun?"

    Joe, that's the problem: In Cho's case, a judge was the one who made the decision.

    Seems to me that if you're going to remove someone's civil rights for being nuts, they should at least get some kind of fair shake, like a trial with a jury or something. At the very least, we allow criminals that luxury.

  • ||

    "McCarthy is a fervent supporter of stricter gun laws..."

    Ah, yes, the same Carolyn McCarthy who can't even give us the definition of a term in a bill she supposedly wrote.

  • ||

    I favor broader listing of those with mental problems BUT I support the proposition ONLY if there is a procedure to get one's name off the list. There is a problem if a single incident strips a person of the free exercise of a recognized right for a lifetime. Currently, Congress does not fund the BATFE's department which removes the restrictions of rights. Once you're on the denied list, you're there forever. That is wrong.

    I second this. I think that there should be a database in place for licensed gun dealers to check which includes those deemed to be a threat to themselves or others due to psychiatric illness (in addition to the usual criminal background check). However, there should be an opportunity for re-evaluation and having ones name cleared from the database if it can be established that the individual is no longer a threat to himself or others.

    Major depression, for example, is often curable with treatment. The fact that someone represents a very real threat to himself while in the throes of major depression, does not imply that he will still be a threat to himself after treatment. Thus, a lifetime ban based on one diagnosis will frequently be inappropriate. However, with an appropriate mechanism for re-evaluation and removal from the database, this is not an insurmountable problem.

  • ||

    I can certainly agree that the procedure here needs to be both cautious, and challengeable/reviewable.

    mediageek, why do you think that a jury would do a better job than a judge?

  • ||

    You DON'T think you know better than, say, a paranoid schizophrenic with a history of violence who's been judged by a court of law to be a danger to himself and others, whether it's a good idea for him to have a gun?

    Exactly the attitude I was talking about. Let's see how it changes if we replace "paranoid schizophrenic" with "swarthy foreigner" and "history of violence" with "history of anti-Americanism". Instead of taking their guns, lets tap their phones, all we need is a judge's rubber stamp right?

  • ||

    Joe,

    First, trial by jury is a fundamental right in the US. Second, without trial by jury, you run the risk of a class divide. Behavior that may be normal in one segment of society can be viewed as abnormal by people who finish graduate school.

  • ||

    Warren,

    "Exactly the attitude I was talking about. Let's see how it changes if we replace "paranoid schizophrenic" with "swarthy foreigner" and "history of violence" with "history of anti-Americanism"."

    You really consider complexion and place of birth to be the equivalent of auditory hallucinations and severe paranoia? You really consider someone's political beliefs to be the equivalent of physical violence?

    See, the reason we don't replace "paranoid schizophrenic" with "swarthy foreigner" is that being dark-skinned and foreign doesn't make one prone to dangerous behavior, while paranoid schizophrenia does, at least in some cases.

    And the reason we don't replace "history of violence" with "history of anti-Americanism" is because political opinions don't harm jor endanger people, while violence does.

    Congratulations, your little thought experiment has demonstrated that proposals to keep dangerous people from possessing firearms would be racist and oppressive if applied to people based on their ethnicity and politics. You know, if we replaced the word "murder" with "being Mexican" in our First-Degree Murder statutes, well, that would be really bad, too!

  • ||

    "mediageek, why do you think that a jury would do a better job than a judge?"

    Evidently I was suffering from a bout of cheery optimism this morning.

    :-/

  • LarryA||

    The obvious alternative to upgrading enforcement of the existing law is to repeal it and let people known to suffer from dangerous mental illnesses enjoy free access to firearms.

    Actually the obvious alternative, for those looking for it, is to ban firearm possession for everyone.

    Won't be long before gun control nuts stretch the definition of mental illness to include unpopular political and social views.

    "Won't be long?" Try to get a gun license in many discretionary jurisdictions (like NYC) if you aren't politically connected.

    Besides, this will be unnecessary once the definition of "mental illness" includes "wanting to own a gun."

    However, there should be an opportunity for re-evaluation and having ones name cleared from the database if it can be established that the individual is no longer a threat to himself or others.

    This should also be true for criminal convictions. There's no reason why someone who boosted a car at age 17 should be prohibited from owning a firearm after ten years of law-abiding behavior.

    However, with an appropriate mechanism for re-evaluation and removal from the database, this is not an insurmountable problem.

    Actually, it can be. There is a mechanism for a felon to petition the federal government for restoration of rights, including the RKBA. The anti-gun folks in Congress, with the aid of law-and-order types, have shut down that process for a couple of decades now. Even for people whose record consists of a single fifty-year-old misdemeanor for "domestic violence."

  • ||

    I agree with Warren. There is no libertarian argument here. This is a nanny state doctrine wrapped in public health clothing. Your chance of being murdered by a stranger in a mass shooting is less than your lifetime risk of falling down stairs and dying. We don't need a law making stairs illegal. This is just an attempt to gain a foothold in the gun control controversy at the expense of the mentally ill. A medical condition that has no definitive diagnosis. Where is the biological marker for schizophrenia? What are the spontaneous remission rates for schizophrenia or bipolar, or depression. Oh wait, we don't even know if these are distinct conditions or merely degrees of the same underlying pathology. But hurry let's start throwing civil rights away because we have boogeymen in our midst...

  • ||

    Hey joe, [I just love typing that in a gun control thread]

    Mental illness is treatable, but stupidity seems to last forever - shouldn't we be more concerned about the latter? Cho seemed every bit a stupid goober as he was a mental case.

  • ||

    A few points:

    1) Most people who are put on psychiatric holds in any state are not taken to a "civil commitment" hearing, unless they do hold a significant potential for IMMINENT danger to self or others. The gun ban is only for people that are civilly commited, not anyone who was merely put on a "hospital/psychiatric hold".

    Later, a person with a history of civil commitment could petition the court to lift the specific gun control ban, and a judge could review the relevant history and make a determination. I've seen this happen.

    2) While it's romantic to debate the validity of "paranoid schizophrenia" and other psychotic disoders because of a lack of definitive biological tests, out in the world people are suffering from psychotic symptoms, and are helped tremendously by medications. The myth that hospitals keep people sick is ludicrous. Anyone who spends a week on an inpatient unit knows that many potentially dangerous psychotic people are not well served by being free to roam the neighborhoods, let alone safe for the community. If you can help your mentally ill family member or friend through other methods, by all means, go ahead. But until then, I've seen people function quite well on neuroleptics who otherwise would practically starve to death from fear of poisoned food.

    Banning guns for persons who have been civilly commited is sensible, as the article purports.

  • Don||

    It's unfair to ban psychotics from having guns. They need to shoot people too.

  • Naty Rosado||

    What constitutes a "mentally defective" individual? Is that a person with developmental delay, or ADHD, or OCD. The people that wrote the Gun Control Act of 1968 do not explain the term "mentally defective". No more laws are needed as the Gun Control Act of 1968 and the amendments are sufficient.

  • Garin||

    I think what is "romantic" is to believe that vesting the government with the power to remove civil liberties based upon a subjective diagnosis like schizophrenia will not be abused (how do you prove a negative? If you can't prove they had it in the first place, how can you prove the don't have it now?). Not too long ago civil disobedience or distrust of your government was considered a type of mental illness. No one is arguing that the severely mentally ill can respond to treatment, what is being discussed, on a libertarian discussion board, is if we need another law to protect us from something that kills less people per year than aspirin.

    Please don't misunderstand my next point. If I get sick I go to a doctor or a hospital but you should familiarize yourself with iatrogenic illness. It is the eight leading cause of death in America. That is not a myth and is certainly a much bigger problem than schizophrenics with guns. Maybe digitizing medical records would be a better use of government resources???

  • Bruce||

    My problem is once all random shootings are reported to be by someone who was unlawfully possessing the firearms used in the shooting because he/she was insane (or a felon or illegal immigrant etcetera), where do we go from there?

  • ||

    If someone is a risk to society, why is he out where he can buy a gun in the first place?

    NO law would have kept ANY of these mass murders from taking place. Killers can always find, steal or make weapons. The issue isn't availability of weapons, it's availability of fruitcakes.

    For that matter, anyone who thinks that this idiotic proposal will prevent one massacre is irrational, thus they shouldn't own guns. Or sharp objects. Or jackets with open sleeves.

    Now, let's consider something else. I'm sure you all know about that DC judge who is suing the Korean dry cleaners for $675,000 over a lost pair of pants (that they found and he wouldn't take back!) -- do you think that he would be open to their right to a gun for defense, or would he happily "adjudicate" them all to be mentally unstable?

    When you put authority in the hands of someone, with neither responsibility nor right of appeal, you are creating a TYRANT -- just the kind of government that the Second Amendment was supposed to prevent in the first place!

  • ||

    The people that wrote the Gun Control Act of 1968 do not explain the term "mentally defective".

    Wasn't homosexuality considered a mental illness in 1968?

  • garin||

    Similarly, for many years epilepsy was said by medical experts to be evidence of pathological criminality. Epileptics were imprisoned in "colonies," to isolate them from the general population. I wonder if those epileptics felt their internment was sensible?

  • ||

    While it is absolutely appropriate and necessary to keep weapons out of the hands of the truly dangerous, the problem with Rep. McCarthy's bill is profound

    It is, frankly, absurd to "assume that people who have been evaluated and ruled by a court to be dangerous are indeed more dangerous than those who have not." because nowhere in the USC is the phrase "adjudicated mentally incompetent" objectively defined. With no clear definition - even among mental health professionals - all such adjudications are arbitrary and arbitrarily applied.

    What judge "in their right mind" would NOT "adjudicate" someone as incompetent if not doing so has the potential, no matter how slight, of the person causing harm?

    Couple that natural reaction with Anti-Gun activist judges, and the numbers of "adjudicated" people will skyrocket. Remember, in the Old Soviet Union, people were "adjudicated" mentally incompetent/dangerous for having divergent political opinions. There are many who believe that the desire to own a firearm is de-facto evidence of mental instability. Do we really want to give non-mental-health professionals that kind of power?

    The bill also provides no relief for those who are Stable and Treated. The proscription is permanent. A woman who had a bad episode of Post Partum Depression would become permanently prohibited from not just purchasing, but *possessing* a firearm.

    Herein lies another danger: In Community Property States, if a Spouse is/becomes a "prohibited person", the *entire family/household* loses the Right to possess firearms - regardless of the legitimacy of their use (job, hunting, sport) or how they are stored.

    What happens then? A no-knock raid by the BATFE for "illegal possession of (a) firearm(s) by a 'prohibited person'"?

    These are not "minor side effects".

    This bill, and others like it, set a very bad precedent - the creation of a class of "prohibited persons" who are prohibited not because of something they have DONE (as is the case with Felons) but because of something the *might* do. It is Government Registration & Tracking of innocent people - of people whose only "crime" is in needing treatment for an illness.

    No mental illness is "dangerous" per se. Some, particularly untreated, people with mental illnesses behave dangerously, and those peoples ACTIONS should theoretically disallow them from possessing firearms, but then, how many Felons in Chicago alone still get firearms?

    This law won't stop a dangerous crazy, but it will stigmatize innocent people and make honest, sane Americans into suspected criminals for simply being.

    We don't need a law that puts people with a *treatable illness* on the same level as predatory sex offenders, to be registered and watched by, of all organizations, the US Department of Justice.

    There has to be another way.

  • ||

    What do you propose for a psychotic person who wants to kill his neighbor because he believes this neighbor works for another Planet and is plotting to steal his testicles for interplanetary reasons. Let's say this psychotic individual has been gradually getting closer to taking action with increasingly lethal means, and yelling threats from his window over the last couple days. Currently, he's barricaded in the house.

    Should he have his civil rights temporarily taken away to be evaluated? Medicated? & Held for how long? Should he be allowed to buy a gun?

    Please don't misunderstand my next point: Should we try having a discussing with him about his chances of hope based on the uncovering of iatrogenic illnesses?

  • garin||

    Ahh, when logic and rational thought are too much resort to demagoguery. A scary, crazy man in my neighborhood?! Hurry everyone surrender your civil rights!

    According to your scenario he has committed a crime. There is a name for his crime and it is in the statutes of every state. With "increasingly lethal means" that makes it aggravated and that is a felony. Felony means no gun. We don't need your new law to protect us. We also don't need your barely informed arguments recreating mistakes we have already made. One hundred years ago we interned epileptics because we were sure they were pathologically criminals.

    What evidence do you have to support your notion that paranoid schizophrenics are more violent than the general population (not counting your imagined scenario)? If you look at PubMed you'll see the experts are all over the board on this one. You know who is the most likely to be violent? A violent criminal who later becomes schizophrenic. Past violence is the most significant predictor of violence no matter whether a person is mentally ill or not. Even worse, a violent offender, using illegal drugs who becomes schizophrenic. Notice something about the latter two. And here is the real crux of the argument you don't have to strip civil rights from someone because they "might" do something. You can take them because they "have" done something.

    And to answer your question, did it ever occur to you that as your neighbor was having his/her psychotic break over the course of days/weeks trying to help? I mean this is a pretty high functioning paranoid schizophrenic. He has a house that he must presumably pay bills on. When you first observed him acting irrationally did it occur to you to talk to him? When he was out in the yard wearing the aluminum foil helmet perhaps. Maybe he simply forgot to take his medicine. Maybe you could call a family member. If it was really that bad why not call an ambulance or at least give him a couple more magnets to disrupt that spaceships tracking him? In your imagined scenario you just ignore it until it is time to lock him up. Isn't ignoring them what Cho was so twisted up about? Your a hell of a neighbor. Or maybe in your world people just explode into disassociative states without warning? If that is true how do you expect your law to work? I realize you were being sarcastic when you suggest discussing iatrogenic illnesses, which it appears you were completely unaware of (don't thank me educating is what I do), with our deranged soon-to-be-murderer (it is a hundred times more likely he will hurt himself but I play along), but maybe it wouldn't be such a bad idea after all. In the meantime quit expecting the government to fix all your problems. You'll never be as safe as you want to be.

  • garin||

    Dear Brian:

    In Out of the Shadows, published by John Wiley & Sons earlier this year, I estimated that there are now approximately 1000 homicides a year committed by individuals with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, almost all of whom were not taking medication at the time of the homicide. My estimate was based on all cases in a metropolitan area of 4 million people for 1 year, then extrapolated to the whole country. Anecdotal evidence suggests that such cases are not unique to urban areas so I think such extrapolation is reasonable. To date, nobody has challenged this 1000/year estimate. Altogether in the US there are approximately 24,000 homicides a year.

    Dr. E. Fuller Torrey

    If you don't know who Torrey is then you don't know schizophrenia...

    Let's see how many people have to die to throw out a constitutional right? Michigan vs. Sitz says 18,000+. Harry you have a long way to go...

  • ||

    I may not know schizophrenia, but I know BiPolar disorder.

    My wife is BiPolar-I. She is currently treated, stable, and living a productive life.

    I also carry a firearm for a living, as well as Hunt and Compete.

    Should this law pass, I would have to give up my Job and my Hobbies. I would be punished - guilt by association - because my wife has a treatable and treated illness.

    My wife has no desire to handle my firearms, and none of them are accessable to anyone but me - but that would not matter to the enforcement of this law.

    Totally aside from the gun issue, my wife greatly fears this bill. She has been working steadily to get off of Social Security Disability - but to do that, and to be able to afford the medication that keeps her stable, she needs to get a decent job (all of her disability payments go for medicare, doctors & drugs). How much harder will it be for her to get a decent job when any criminal background check will show her as flagged as a "prohibited person"? HIIPA won't allow the Justice Department to explain why someone is prohibited, just that they are.

    Where will it end for "Prohibited Persons"? When my wife was unstable, and violent, she attacked me with a kitchen knife - not a gun. Do we prohibit them from buying kitchen knives? Or driving cars? How many vehicular homicides - or just "accidents" are caused by the untreated mentally ill? Do we deny them drivers licenses?

    How far are we willing to go to persecute people with a treatable illness?

  • ||

    Well, I guess you're right.
    p.s. I know when I'm being sarcastic. That you could possibly think I wasn't aware of it is - well, what does it tell you about you?

  • ||

    On a closing note - this is a very complex issue. I was involved with many civil commitment hearings. I saw many people (which may surprise some of you) left to walk out of the courtroom that were dangerous but it was not proven that the dangerousness was related to the mental illness. This was the fair decision by the judge but it was hard to watch. One of these persons was readmitted to the hospital that same night. It's hard to get some people to take their medicine, some people have a paucity of others around them, limited or no family, isolation, etc...

    At other times, people were commited who absolutely shouldn't have been. And I know this is what Garin is talking about. It is scary. There are weak links in the chain & it is unjust for some individuals to be commited and we should continue to be vigilant and fight for the rights of these people.

  • garin||

    Well said Harry. I enjoyed the discourse...

  • ||

    "Some minor side effects are a small price to pay for reducing the threat posed by the likes of Cho Seung-Hui."

    Very dangerous statement, safe at any cost logic at work.


    Mark

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