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I have been very disturbed by the many references to keeping guns out of the hands of “the mentally ill” by those on all sides of the gun control debate. While I absolutely agree that people who are dangerous to themselves or others should not have guns, this is a very difficult thing to legislate. Present federal law prohibits possession of guns by those who have been committed to psychiatric hospitals by a court. Laws also require mental health professionals to report to authorities if a patient is demonstrating signs that they are homicidal or suicidal. Such a person is then taken for a full psychiatric evaluation to determine if they are, indeed, a danger and to determine a course of treatment. If further treatment is recommended and refused, the individual has the right to a hearing in front of a judge before he can be involuntarily committed. In this way, the right to due process is preserved. 

What many are advocating now goes far beyond the standard we have. Some would have everyone who takes apsychiatric medication barred from owning a gun. Others would include those who have been taken for evaluation, regardless of outcome, along with thosd committed for treatment.  Still others would exclude those who voluntarily seek help for a mental health issue at a hospital. New York state is using supposedly confidential medical records to confiscate guns from those taking certain medicines. Connecticut is requiring doctors to report patients seeking voluntary admission to hospitals to the state so they can be placed in a prohibited persons database. California is confiscating guns from family members of those whi have been hospitalized. A recent federal proposal would have allowed doctors to place names in the NICS system at their discretion.

In my opinion, these are all outrageousinfringements on multiple rights. There is no due process, no judicial oversight, before depriving Americans of fundamental rights. The violations of privacy and confidentiality are egregious. The potential for misuse is incredible. To penalize a person who has committed no crime is unConstitutional.  To put names and identifying information about innocent people into criminal databases is simply unfair.

The factis, mental health is a spectrum. There are those who have hallucinations and delusions, who can’t function in society. Although they are clearly mentally ill, in most cases it is not so clear cut. Normal emotions, such as grief or anxiety, may interfere with a person’s life to a point they seek counseling, medication or even hospitalization. Some have an ongoing mental illness, such as PTSD, that requires medication or treatment,  but, does not necessarily make them a risk for violence.  Those with OCD often need lifelong treatment, but rarely pose a risk to themselves or others.

On the other hand, those who are most likely to be violent are least likely to get treatment. The most dangerous individuals are sociopaths, also referred to as psychopaths. I suppose that psychiatry must have a name for every deviation from normal behavior. But, sociopaths aren’t mentally ill in the sense that they are bothered by their problems or that they can be treated. They are individuals who lack any morality, conscience,  compassion or empathy. They are also usually smart enough to keep their secrets close, to blend with other when they need to and ti fake being real human beings. They don’t come to the attention of the mental health system until after they commit crimes. 

Punishing every non-criminal, non-dangerous person who has a mental health issue or takes a medication isn’t go to stop violent crime. I doubt it would even reduce suicides. What it will do is discourage people from seeking help when they need it. It will discourage people from taking medicine that keeps their symptoms under control. Particularly for conditions like PTSD and chronic depression, early intervention and ingoing treatment prevent the worst symptoms of the disease from ever presenting. People with these illnesses can usually live normal lives, not endangering anyone, if they get the treatment they need. Why would we want to discourage that?

If those who need psychiatric care can continue to seek and receive treatment,including medications, with their confidentiality and privacy protected, that will do the most to “protect” everyone. If something changes that makes them a risk, the laws and procedures are in place to deal with that. If those systems fail, as happened in the case of the Aurora killer, it is a failure of those sho did not follow the procedure. If someone is kept out of the system, as with the Newtown killer, the new laws will be no more effective than the old.

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