No, Arbitrarily Locking Up People Instead of Restricting Guns Isn't a Good Option Either

Charles Krauthammer looks at the Navy Yard shooting and sees, it isn't the guns we need to restrict--it's the crazy people!

shallowend / Foter / CC BY-NC-SAshallowend / Foter / CC BY-NC-SA

He writes of an incident in which the Navy Yard killer Aaron Alexis called cops in Rhode Island last month and said he 

was hearing voices. Three people were following him, he told the cops. They were sending microwaves through walls, making his skin vibrate and preventing him from sleeping. He had already twice changed hotels to escape the men, the radiation, the voices......

Had this happened 35 years ago in Boston, Alexis would have been brought to me as the psychiatrist on duty at the emergency room of the Massachusetts General Hospital. Were he as agitated and distressed as in the police report, I probably would have administered an immediate dose of Haldol, the most powerful fast-acting antipsychotic of the time.....

 If I had thought he could be sufficiently cared for by family or friends to receive regular oral medication, therapy and follow-up, I would have discharged him. Otherwise, I’d have admitted him. And if he refused, I’d have ordered a 14-day involuntary commitment...

We cannot, of course, be cavalier about commitment. We should have layers of review, albeit rapid. But it’s both cruel and reckless to turn loose people as lost and profoundly suffering as Alexis, even apart from any potential dangerousness.

There are all sorts of things we could do in to violate the rights of citizens because they are in a class that sometimes but really hardly ever goes on to commit a crime. Of course, it's best, as Krauthammer does, to say it's not just for our (possibly presumed) good that we do it: it's for theirs

Since even in Krauthammer's best case scenario, he could only have had the chance to drug/lock up Alexis for his disordered sayings for a while, it's not even clear why he sees this as a solution to what things he might or could have done upon being freed--unless he thinks people who say or seem to think things like that should never be free. This "solution" is like most gun control solutions offered--just one more thing to say that pretends on the surface to be a solution to a problem that would not necessarily have prevented the particular problem we are contemplating.

As Jacob Sullum wrote here the last time a call went up to restrict people who were called mentally ill from owning guns:

mental health professionals are notoriously bad at predicting which of the world's many misfits, cranks, and oddballs will become violent. "Over thirty years of commentary, judicial opinion, and scientific review argue that predictions of danger lack scientific rigor,"notes University of Georgia law professor Alexander Scherr in a 2003 Hastings Law Journal article. "The sharpest critique finds that mental health professionals perform no better than chance at predicting violence, and perhaps perform even worse."

So even if the mental-health criteria for rejecting gun buyers (or for commitment) were expanded, there is little reason to think they could distinguish between future Lanzas and people who pose no threat. Survey data from the National Institute of Mental Health indicate that nearly half of all Americans qualify for a psychiatric diagnosis at some point in their lives. That's a pretty wide dragnet.

Here's how decent Western justice works: we punish or restrict people for committing crimes, crimes that have already been codified through a hopefully just and transparent process; not for showing signs of thinking or behaving in a manner that in a small minority of cases indicates you are the type of person who might commit a crime--and it doesn't matter how awful that crime we are guessing you might commit is.

Sometimes the inclination on pundit's part to offer some, any, public policy solution to tragedy should just be resisted--especially when it leads to ringing calls for preventive detention on a class of people who will, in almost every case, not actually go on to commit mass murder.

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  • Fist of Etiquette||

    Obviously some action must be taken. We simply cannot accept that some things are out of our control.

  • Harvard||

    It's called a libertarian dilemma. The upside is we don't have to feel bad about incarcerating a nut ball and we have the right to shoot the fuck when he goes off.

  • Lyle||

    Basically Doherty is saying we have the right to go crazy and kill people, as long as we accept that society will arrest us and discipline us for our free actions.

  • Brandon||

    Doherty attracts the stupidest critics.

  • Rich||

    OK, I think I have a solution. Since apparently no one can predict who's going to, um, be a problem, simply randomly lock up people for varying lengths of time. It prevents the crimes that they may have committed had they been out; and creates JOBS.

  • Brandon||

    Our crimes prevented stats will be in the billions!!

  • Live Free or Diet||

    You want to talk crazy? Our military bases are not normally armed? Am I the only one who thinks that's crazy? Or did our local news get that wrong?

  • pmains||

    You're not the only one. The same issue came up after the Ft Hood massacre. But the left NEVER LEARNS.

  • Paul.||

    Yes, you get to add one more mass shooting in a Gun Free zone to the roster.

  • Brandon||

    Your local news didn't get it wrong, but a recently-recalled gun grabber from CO sure as shit did.

  • Tulpa (LAOL-VA)||

    Other than places like airports and courthouses where they actually search you on the way in, the purpose of Gun Free Zones is to prevent a simple Man With A Gun scenario from turning into a firefight with people getting caught in the crossfire, or even worse people shooting at each other in confusion about who the bad guy is.

  • SweatingGin||

    the purpose of Gun Free Zones is to prevent a simple Man With A Gun scenario from turning into a firefight with people getting caught in the crossfire

    I just can't see how that is true. I can imagine one or two people not in power coming up with that as a rationalization, but in general, the reason for a gun free zone is "GUNS BAD!" right?

    I mean, I'd like to think the folks that propose gun free zones have a rational reason, but I don't believe it. They just shit their pants when they see a pop-tart shaped like a gun.

  • Tulpa (LAOL-VA)||

    As the chick from Matrix Reloaded said, "You know what the definition of a hero is? Someone who gets other people killed."

    Well that's certainly the case for banks (which often have trespass-enforced GFZs). The vast majority of gun brandishings in banks are for robberies, and they almost always complete without anyone getting hurt. If the guy second in line is CC'ing and decides to be a hero, things could get bad real quick. Especially if the robbers are expecting this and showing up with a bunch of guys armed to the teeth, just in case (which is unusual now).

    I assume the same is true for malls and theaters, etc.

    Schools are more difficult.... the GFSZA certainly rode into law on a waif of anti-gun hysteria. But there are soild reasons for not wanting guns floating around in a place where the kid:adult ratio is enormous. A gun on a teacher's belt is far more likely to wind up in the hands of a kid by accident than to be used to stop a school shooting, just because the latter are so rare.

  • SweatingGin||

    If the guy second in line is CC'ing and decides to be a hero, things could get bad real quick.

    I suppose so... doesn't mean that people shouldn't carry.

    Especially if the robbers are expecting this and showing up with a bunch of guys armed to the teeth, just in case (which is unusual now).

    I suspect the robbers will look at the likelihood of:

    1) getting shot
    2) getting sentenced for murder/attempted murder as opposed to just armed robbery
    3) getting shot

    and decide on a better course of action than robbing said place. Maybe find a place with a sign that says no one can legally carry, and rob that place.

    But my point still stands -- I'd be willing to bet, most people who decide to put up a no-carrying sign are not considering anything about who may or may not carry there (legal, or unlawfully). They're thinking about "guns icky".

  • Tulpa (LAOL-VA)||

    Well, I'm looking at it from the bank's point of view. I trust myself to be disciplined enough not to pull my carry piece out unless someone's life is actually in danger. If I'm second in line and the guy in front pulls out a gun, I'm acting as if I don't have a gun and letting him go. Now, if he orders everyone in the bank to kneel against the wall with their heads down, that's a different story but that's rare. Most bank robbers are not the Joker.

    Can't necessarily say the same for some random gun-enthusiast dude who watches NUTNFANCY's YouTube videos all the way through, so I'd understand the bank's attitude.

  • SweatingGin||

    Now, if he orders everyone in the bank to kneel against the wall with their heads down, that's a different story but that's rare. Most bank robbers are not the Joker.

    Most bank robbers don't go to the bank physically, because they'll get shot.

    But tell me, do you think the bank thought the consequences of their no guns sign through, or did they just post it because guns icky!

  • Stormy Dragon||

    We cannot, of course, be cavalier about commitment.

    You mean like trying to diagnose a patient you've never met on the basis of third party accounts written months later? Would that be considered cavalier?

  • Rich||

    cavalier about commitment

    Nice band name.

  • SweatingGin||

    sounds like a Christian rock band name.

  • Tulpa (LAOL-VA)||

    So there's never any way to evaulaute the performance of psychiatric personnel to psychotic 911 callers? Convenient. Let me guess: you're a psychiatric personnel?

    Reminds me of Groovus Maximus' insistence that there never be any way to second guess a doctor's writing up an excuse for a patient, even when it was obviously politically motivated.

  • Rich||

    Here's how decent Western justice works: we punish or restrict people for committing crimes, crimes that have already been codified through a hopefully just and transparent process

    But, Brian, that stuff belongs to the quaint, innocent era before high-powered rifles and WMDs.

  • Harvard||

    And petulent Arabs.

  • Tulpa (LAOL-VA)||

    Right -- they were totally down with letting insane people walk around armed on the streets in 1789. The stories of insane asylums in that era are just a leftist fabrication, or something.

  • Paul.||

    I haven't read all the sub-details to this case, but if the cops were doing their jobs, they would have contacted an MHP who could have made contact with Alexis and made further determination. Unfortunately, despite what some people assert, unless he was decompensated enough to be a danger to himself or others, then he just gets chalked (chocked?) up as an unfortunate crazy dude having a tough time, and they move on.

  • rts||

  • Paul.||

    Yeah, but what does the for-profit dictionary say?

  • PapayaSF||

    This is another area where I am not a purist libertarian. Yes, we used to lock up too many people for mental health reasons, but the pendulum has swung too far in the other direction. It's not a coincidence that since the closing of mental hospitals we have had noticeable increases in both mass murders and homelessness.

    To say "nearly half of all Americans qualify for a psychiatric diagnosis at some point in their lives" is a straw man: nobody wants to lock up everyone with a "psychiatric diagnosis." But paranoid schizophrenics are a small fraction of those people, and a large proportion of mass murderers are paranoid schizophrenics. It makes sense to try to prevent mass murders by trying to control the small fraction of the population most likely to commit them.

  • Paul.||

    This is another area where I am not a purist libertarian. Yes, we used to lock up too many people for mental health reasons, but the pendulum has swung too far in the other direction.

    The Times are a'changin' back, ever so slightly. Here in Washington, they just changed the language from an involuntary commit from something like "imminent danger to self or others" to "likely" or "probable threat to self or others".

    What it means is that the MHP can take the totality of circumstances (a favorite phrase around here these days) to make decisions about whether or not someone can be committed against will. Specifically, if a subject has a history of violence (for instance) when they decompensate to a certain level, they can use that history as reasonable grounds to commit you if you're decompensating. Before the change, the circs were held more in a vacuum. Sure, the last three times you decompensated and pushed a small child into traffic, but that doesn't matter...

    That's what's changing.

  • PapayaSF||

    That sounds like progress. Too much of the discussion of this issue amounts to "We can never be totally certain, so better to let dangerous nuts run loose and only lock them up once they kill someone."

  • Calidissident||

    Except that in this case, the vast majority of people we're talking about don't become murderers.

  • Tulpa (LAOL-VA)||

    The vast majority of cops never terrorize homeowners, fabricate evidence, and shoot dogs, yet we favor policies restricting police activity to prevent them from doing so.

  • Calidissident||

    You really can't see a difference between limiting the ability of government employees (who've been given the sole legal power to arrest and imprison people) to misuse their power in the course of their job, and not locking up someone just because they seem crazy?

  • mad libertarian guy||

    No. He can't.

  • PapayaSF||

    I would be curious to know the figures, but I suspect that a significant percentage of untreated paranoid schizophrenics end up harming themselves, harming others, or have harm done to them.

  • Tulpa (LAOL-VA)||

    Self-harm isn't really anyone else's business, is it?

  • Stormy Dragon||

    It's not a coincidence that since the closing of mental hospitals we have had noticeable increases in both mass murders and homelessness.

    Not only is it not a coincidence, it's not a thing that happened at all:

    Mass shootings not trending

    There's certainly been an increase in NEWS COVERAGE of mass shootings though.

  • Brandon||

    Holy shit, Papaya, you got owned by Stormy. Maybe you should just lay off commenting for a while, maybe reassess some things. Read or something.

  • PapayaSF||

    No, my point still stands, because the graph at Stormy's link starts in 1976, long after the closing of the mental hospitals. A graph that goes farther back shows an increase starting in the 1950s, when the deinstitutionalization movement really began.

    http://wmbriggs.com/blog/?p=7031

  • Calidissident||

    With that scale, that graph doesn't really tell us much. A difference of 0.05 mass shootings per million per decade comes out to be about 1.5 more mass shootings a decade in a country of 300 million. Does that really tell us anything? And the rate in the 2000s wasn't even that much higher than it was in the 30s and 40s, and the rate so far in this decade is even lower than it was then.

  • Calidissident||

    *I meant 1.5 more per year, but the point stands

  • PapayaSF||

    I think it's one facet of untreated mental illness. Granted, it rarely manifests as mass murder. Sometimes it's just murder or assault or homelessness or suicide.

    Mental health pros hate to admit it, because they don't want the ill to be "stigmatized," but a disproportionate amount of crime is committed by the mentally ill and the mentally challenged (or whatever the term is now). You know those "dumb crook" stories we all like to laugh about? Sadly, a lot of those people have very low IQs.

  • Calidissident||

    "I think it's one facet of untreated mental illness. Granted, it rarely manifests as mass murder. Sometimes it's just murder or assault or homelessness or suicide."

    That's a nice way of brushing aside inconvenient facts. As to your point, I do agree that a lot of crime may be influenced by mental illness. And I don't have a problem requiring treatment as part of sentencing for people who commit assault, steal, etc. if mental illness is affecting them. But until they do something like that that violates the rights of others, I can't support involuntary commitment just because they are, or seem, "crazy" (or are viewed as such by the government).

  • mad libertarian guy||

    I can't support involuntary commitment just because they are, or seem, "crazy" (or are viewed as such by the government).

    And that's the crux. Now that government and the media are making connections between mental illness and gun crime (deservedly or not), and they simply must Do Something™ in order to stop gun crime, how long will it be until they start diagnosing mental illness in everyone they see? As it is, over 1/2 of Americans can be diagnosed with something at some point. They will get around the 2a not by making guns illegal (they're failing at that at every turn), but by making people illegal.

  • Tulpa (LAOL-VA)||

    Unable to get 60 votes in favor of gun background checks in the senate, they'll just commit half the population?

    Is that really your argument?

  • Robert||

    A disproportionate amount of crime is committed by a lot of groups: blacks, for instance. The trouble is, what do you do with that knowledge, when you combine it with the knowledge that it's still a minority committing the crimes? About the most that's justified is profiling, i.e. watching members of certain groups more closely. You still can't presume any one of them will commit a crime.

  • Tulpa (LAOL-VA)||

    Unlike mental illness, there's no reason to believe one's skin color affects one's tendency to commit crimes.

    It's more likely that being poor in a densely populated area tends to cause one to commit crimes, and it just happens that those two factors are more prevalent among black people than among other races.

  • Cytotoxic||

    I'm kind of siding with PapayaSF here and this article, as Doherty's 'musings' so often do, reminds me why I'm an Objectivist.

    'Broken units' like the mentally ill do not enjoy the same and full rights as us normal people. I don't know how to define that or what criteria to use in incarceration but I do know that my post is already too sophisticated for Dopeherty and that his worthless 'half of all adults' comment only vindicates my disdain for him.

  • The Immaculate Trouser||

    'Broken units'? Easy there, Mein Kampf. The mentally ill are just that: ill, not broken. One must be cautious to ensure that their rights are not being unduly harmed, even if there are some special concerns that apply in their case which do not in the case of mentally balanced individuals.

  • Tulpa (LAOL-VA)||

    Cyto = V-Ger?

  • Cytotoxic||

    I'm kind of siding with PapayaSF here and this article, as Doherty's 'musings' so often do, reminds me why I'm an Objectivist.

    'Broken units' like the mentally ill do not enjoy the same and full rights as us normal people. I don't know how to define that or what criteria to use in incarceration but I do know that my post is already too sophisticated for Dopeherty and that his worthless 'half of all adults' comment only vindicates my disdain for him.

  • Tulpa (LAOL-VA)||

    I wouldn't countenance talking about mentally ill people as subhuman. (broken units? is that a term Objies actually use? ugh). That makes it too easy to take away their rights willy-nilly.

    In cases of severe and unambiguous dangers to public safety, I'd say rights need to take a back seat if they unavoidably conflict with protecting the public.

  • Cytotoxic||

    You and TIT need to lay off the Godwin. No one's talking about 'subhumans' or eliminating them. Yes, this is an Oist term for non-child people whose minds are broken and don't have the properties required for possession of full rights.

  • Tulpa (LAOL-VA)||

    Sorry, I was totally forgetting that you consider innocent women and children living in the wrong country to have no right to life too, or even a right not to be incinerated alive.

  • Cytotoxic||

    And here we have an excellent example of a 'broken unit' in Tulpa, one of the more retarded shitcommenters of HandR. Note the inability to argue or even focus on a point or differentiate between different arguments. The subject is too cognitively deficient to address the point and acts out by throwing a small tantrum and a non-sequitor as an easy escape. This subject was also too challenged to master a real science and therefore took up mathematics.

  • Stormy Dragon||

    So "'Broken units' like the mentally ill do not enjoy the same and full rights as us normal people" and "here we have an excellent example of a 'broken unit' in Tulpa". So you think it's okay to violate Tulpa's rights because you don't like their web comments?

  • Tulpa (LAOL-VA)||

    Thanks for demonstrating the slippery slope your "broken unit" philosophy sets up, Cyto. First mentally ill people, then political opponents.

  • Tulpa (LAOL-VA)||

    Here's how decent Western justice works: we punish or restrict people for committing crimes, crimes that have already been codified through a hopefully just and transparent process; not for showing signs of thinking or behaving in a manner that in a small minority of cases indicates you are the type of person who might commit a crime--and it doesn't matter how awful that crime we are guessing you might commit is.

    No it's not. Insane people have been locked up, and certainly prevented from bearing arms, for millenia in the West. Every one of the Founding Fathers, and everyone involved in ratifying the Second Amendment, would have supported this policy.

    Deinstitutionalization of the sort we have now is the true outlier from Western justice...made possible by the discovery of drugs to mitigate insanity. But that depends on patients taking their medications, enforcement of which is fairly difficult.

    No, I don't want to have a guy who thinks I'm going home to put a pin in a voodoo doll and give him a heart attack, toting a loaded AR15 walking behind me on the sidewalk. Maybe that makes me crazy?

  • The Immaculate Trouser||

    Yep; children and the mentally unbalanced have always existed in a legal state of ambiguity vis a vis rights. Doesn't mean that everything in the DSM should be cause for restriction of rights (cue references to homosexuality having been listed in DSM II), but there are definitely some which do qualify.

  • Cyto||

    The left has been picking up this meme lately. Earlier this week Geraldo Rivera was off on a rant about the right wing being responsible for gutting our mental health system over the last 30-40 years and now we can't commit these dangerously insane individuals because of the conservatives.

    Same song and dance they did on drug laws. It is the evil, racist conservatives who pushed through horrible, racist crack cocaine laws. (and definitely not the congressional black caucus)

    It is one thing when some know-nothing 24 year old hipster proggie makes such stupid claims, but hearing so many people who are old enough to have been there push these team blue talking points is maddening. To hear a guy like Rivera making that claim is double-maddening since he was part of the left media that pushed the cause for de-institutionalization back in the 70s.

  • Tulpa (LAOL-VA)||

    Well, the left today considers Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton to be blue-dog DINOs (except when they need to be dusted off to stump for BO).

  • SweatingGin||

    I had a good yelling match with a prog friend after Sandy Hook. Essentially, after he was convinced that no gun control would make a difference, he busted out a bunch of "more mental health coverage".

    I hit back with "I don't think you're willing to do what is necessary". He thought I was talking about funding. No, not about funding. About involuntarily committing people. Lots of them. Lots and lots of people. Wrong opinion? No rights, in the institution with you.

    I guess that's progressive, though.

  • The Immaculate Trouser||

    "Funding" won't help if we don't know *what* we are funding. I am in favor of increased funding for certain aspects of mental health, but that's far beyond the ken of progressives who think that "more funding" is a healing balm which cures all ills in public policy.

    Involuntary commitment would undoubtedly help more than a generalized increase of funding for mental health institutions.

  • Calidissident||

    I don't trust the government with the power to involuntarily commit people who haven't been found guilty of a crime

  • Tulpa (LAOL-VA)||

    So who do you trust with that power?

    Or are you of the opinion that no one should ever be committed no matter how clearly they are detached from reality in a dangerous way.

  • Calidissident||

    If they haven't actually harmed anyone else yet or violated anyone else's rights? Yeah. The vast majority of mentally ill people don't become mass murderers. I don't have a problem with making commitment to a mental institution part of someone's sentence if they're convicted of a lesser offense, and if their mental condition is found to be responsible. But until then, it's a price I'm willing to pay to live in a free society.

  • Cytotoxic||

    Mentally ill people tend to commit other crimes as well. Incarceration of severely mentally ill people can be seen to be as much a part of the government's job as incarcerating criminals.

  • Calidissident||

    "Mentally ill people tend to commit other crimes as well."

    As I said, I have no problem locking them up and requiring treatment if they do commit other crimes.

    "Incarceration of severely mentally ill people can be seen to be as much a part of the government's job as incarcerating criminals."

    If we're talking about severely mentally ill people who commit crimes, then yes, I agree fully.

  • Robert||

    Is there no intermediate measure between nothing and locking someone up? Doesn't it make sense to watch some people more closely than others? And not to grant security clearances as broadly as was apparently done in this case?

  • Tulpa (LAOL-VA)||

    Well, it's nice that you're consistent, but pretty much no one in this society is willing to pay that price, and it's not up to you to demand they do.

  • Calidissident||

    "Well, it's nice that you're consistent, but pretty much no one in this society is willing to pay that price"

    Really? Cause we've been paying that price, whatever it is, for decades. Jesus, some of you people make it seem like the streets are overflowing with blood from mobs of zombie-like lunatics roaming the landscape in search of human flesh.

    "and it's not up to you to demand they do."

    Whatever you say, Tony.

  • Tulpa (LAOL-VA)||

    You're advocating for an end to involuntary commitment, Cali, and presumably an end to forcible medication too. That is not current policy and never has been.

    What we see now is nothing compared to what your policy would unleash.

  • Tulpa (LAOL-VA)||

    If O'Hare Airport had 10 plane crashes a day, you could still say that "the vast majority of planes landing or taking off at O'Hare don't crash." That doesn't mean there isn't a problem.

  • PapayaSF||

    Earlier this week Geraldo Rivera was off on a rant about the right wing being responsible for gutting our mental health system

    Yes, I encountered the "Reagan closed the mental hospitals" meme on Facebook recently. I politely pointed out that deinstitutionalization was a liberal civil rights cause going back to the '50s, and that Medicare closed a lot of mental hospitals because they wouldn't pay for institutionalization. Even the ultra-prog "friend" poster gave me a Like for that.

  • Tulpa (LAOL-VA)||

    Well, the problem is that in the case of Loughner, Cho, and now Alexis, govt interests had all the info they needed to clearly see that the person in question was loopy. It wouldn't have required any extra surveillance or mandatory psych evals to prevent these people from getting firearms legally, just fucking communicate with the NICS system.

    Holmes and Lanza both set off warning bells with private citizens due to their odd behavior, but preventing Holmes from buying firearms would prevent plenty of harmless people from doing so. And of course Lanza stole his AR15, though nothing would have stopped him from buying one if he'd had the money.

    And yeah, I know that doesn't prevent them from getting guns illegally. But I don't see someone like Jared Lee Loughner successfully navigating the black market without getting caught or pissing off the wrong person.

  • Robert||

    But Alexis actually got security clearance, which you'd think would be a more stringent standard.

  • Tulpa (LAOL-VA)||

    Only "secret" level, which your hamster could get as long as it hasn't done drugs or vacationed in Iran recently.

    They save the 5th amendment shredding and full body cavity experience for "top secret" clearances.

  • Stormy Dragon||

    Security clearances just say you're unlikely to release classified information to an unauthorized party. Given that there's no accusation Alexis did, I don't see anything wrong with his background check.

  • Robert||

    Then maybe you should need other types of clearance to get into certain bldgs.

    I understand this guy shot his way in, but he wouldn't've known his way around had he not been cleared for entry previously.

  • Tulpa (LAOL-VA)||

    While it's not specifically intended to prevent workplace violence, the clearance process is supposed to weed out people with mental instability (because unstable people are harder to trust with secrets). However, the medium level of clearance he had (Secret) doesn't require an in-depth background check.

  • Robert||

    I'd forgotten that Charles Krauthammer was a M.D. I'm sure I knew that years ago, but it must've slipped my mind, needed this reminder.

  • ||

    It has always been ironic to me that these, the mentally ill, the least able to advocate for themselves, receive such pitiful help from the State.

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