Part 3: Guns and Mental Health
In part 3 of this 4 part series, the experts weigh in on gun control, rights, and mental health. In part 4 the experts will answer, What do we do?
In response to the Sandy Hook school shooting and the recent Taft Union High School incident, many people are calling for various forms of gun control, or for keeping guns away from people with mental illness. That sounds like common sense on the surface, when one thinks of “people with mental illness” meaning only the most serious, long-established illnesses like schizophrenia. However, America defines “person with mental illness” via the DSM, the Diagnostic and Statistic Manual, and its contents are the result of voting. Members of the American Psychiatric Association vote on adding or removing diagnoses from their official diagnosis manual. There are no scientific criteria which determine what goes into the manual. It is an entirely political process. There used to be an official diagnosis for being gay. It was voted out when it became politically unfashionable. They got around to voting out an official diagnosis for being transgender just this year. Again, it was voted out of the DSM for political reasons, not scientific ones. There is still a diagnosis for being a rape victim. Does society really want to deny a woman a gun permit because she was raped? That would be the ultimate in victim disarmament.
The purpose of DSM codes is not to define who is normal and who is not normal, but to determine what type of counseling services insurance companies must pay for. Society would be ill served to take insurance codes as a key to mark out who in society can and cannot exercise their Constitutional rights. As a group, people with mental health labels are no more likely to be violent than the general population. However, people with mental illness are more likely to be victims of crime.
Robert Tessaro was the Director of Law Enforcement Relations for the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence, and Director of the New Jersey Association of School Resource Officers. He says, “The reason we have background checks on gun purchases is because of the Brady Law, named for James Brady, the Press Secretary for President Ronald Reagan who was shot during an assassination attempt on the President by John Hinckley, Jr. Hinckley was found not guilty by reason of insanity. He purchased the gun at a pawn shop and provided false information on the application. Up until that time it was on the honor system to provide accurate information on an application for a gun.
“The Brady Law requires background checks to be conducted at point of purchase at stores that have a Federally Firearms Licensees, known as FFLs. The Brady Act prohibits certain persons from shipping or transporting any firearm in interstate or foreign commerce, or receiving any firearm which has been shipped or transported in interstate or foreign commerce, or possessing any firearm in or affecting commerce. These prohibitions apply to any person who has been adjudicated as a mental defective or committed to a mental institution.
“The FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) is used by FFL’s to instantly determine whether a prospective buyer is eligible to
buy firearms. States are supposed to report criminal records and other prohibited purchasers to the FBI to be included in this system, but as we have seen over the past few years they are woefully lacking. States are not required to report to the system, and as a result, 21 states have reported fewer than 100 records for individuals who should be prohibited because of institutionalization or adjudication. The Mayors Against Illegal Guns have a map that ranks the states on reporting prohibited purchasers available here: http://www.demandaplan.org/fatalgaps.”
Guy Smith, author of Shooting The Bull, Gun Facts, says,
“1) Gun availability is not a determinant variable: Many countries
experience mass homicide, and in some there is virtually no private firearm
ownership. Even in America, the worst school massacre (killed 30 children
and several adults) was a bombing (Bath Township, Mich).
“2) Mental illness may have a statistically significant role in mass
public homicide: Mother Jones recently compiled a list of modern mass public
shootings and discovered that 62% of the assailants had publicly reported
cases of mental instability. We don’t know about the other 38% since privacy
laws keep patient/physician/pharmacy records private (this can be changed
legislatively so that we can start better understanding the problem).
“3) There may be a pharmacological link in some/many instances: A side
effect of some classes of prescription psychotropic medications is
uncontrolled rage (the Columbine killers mentioned in their confession video
tapes that they were going through cold-turkey withdraw from their meds
because it amplified their rage and gave them the strength to carry out
the ambush). See http://ssristories.com/ for a site that used to compile
instances where there appears to be a connection. As an aside, one neighbor
reported the Sandy Hook shooter as being on medications for his Autism, and
a common class of autism meds are SSRIs (same as Columbine).
“4) If we look at mass public homicide from a prevention standpoint, two
elements become statistically clear:
“a. We don’t identify and control at risk people well. The VA Tech
shooter was almost involuntarily committed, the Aurora, CO shooter had
admitted to his doctor that he wanted to kill, the Tucson, AZ shooter had
been booted out of school for increasingly erratic behavior, and on, and on.
However, catching at risk people without violating their civil rights will
be a challenge.
“b. We can say that gun-free zones do not work. All public schools are
gun-free zones. VA Tech was a gun-free zone. A mall that was the scene of a
mass assault was as well. If private firearms are a deterrent in homes (and
research indicates the uncertainty principle does work), then guns in
public likely have the same effect (though it is a mere causal relationship,
I’ll note that since 1988 we have gone from 10 to 42 states that will issue
any non-criminal a concealed carry permit, and during that time violent
crime has dropped).”
AdamRingenberg of GunsCarsTech.com says, “The current laws, and the suggested ones popping up everywhere, are aimed at preventing things like Sandy Hook from happening but they only work if they work. What that means is that when we say no guns in schools what we are really saying is we really, really, really *hope* that no crazy person will ignore the rules and come in here, because the good folks that follow the rules are going to be completely defenseless.
“If I can’t trust my son’s teachers and office staff to *not kill him* if they choose to arm themselves, then how can I trust them to be alone in the
same room with him? It makes no sense.
“We have to go the belt and suspenders route. We already have the belt (crazy people aren’t allowed to own guns, murder is illegal, going within 1000 feet of a school with a gun is illegal if you don’t have a carry permit). We need the suspenders, which is allowing people to defend themselves when the belt fails. We have to have both.”
WilliamGreene, President of RightMarch.com says, “Israel — a nation surrounded by madmen who seek to kill innocent Jewish children any way they can — has rarely seen the kinds of pandemonium that we just saw in Newtown, CT. Why? Because Israel allows their teachers to carry weapons to protect their children. The fact is, GUNS SAVE LIVES — and they could have saved lives at Sandy Hook Elementary School, if the teachers had not been forbidden from even having the option of arming for self-protection… and protecting their school children.
“That’s why our conservative activist organization, RightMarch.com, has launched a email petition and fax campaign to DEMAND that Congress REPEAL the Gun-Free School Zones Act, and allow OUR teachers and administrators to exercise their Second Amendment right to Keep and Bear Arms — AT SCHOOL. You can see our campaign at http://rightmarch.com/2012/12/protect-our-children-repeal-gun-free-school-zones/ — we’ve already seen almost 5,000 emails and faxes delivered to Congress through our system in the last two days, with an untold number more phone calls being made.”
David Kennedy was the Curator of the Cody Firearms Museum at the Buffalo Bill Historical Center. He says, “I have known shooters who have had Asperger’s. From my experience, barring other conditions, they are safer (and better) shooters than many of the non-ASD shooters I have known.”
By Erin Lale