Posted by Bob Lord
[Background: In a post by AzBlueMeanie, Arizona GOP Doubles Down on NRA's Idiotic Proposal, Representative Kavanagh started a discussion regarding proposals to curb gun violence. The discussion continued in a post of mine, An Open Letter to Representative Kavanagh. I chose to place this response to Representative Kavanagh in a new post because my prior post has moved too far down the page at this point.]
I don’t ordinarily speak for my fellow bloggers here, let alone our readers (many of whom are conservative), but I’m confident that many share my appreciation that you would take the time to post comments on this site. I hope you understand that my previous comments were intended as criticism, not as an attack.
I’m not sure if my personal opinion counts for all that much, as I have no special expertise here, but I’m happy to respond to your last comment, as you requested. I also encourage our readers to chime in.
With that as background, consider all the situations we’re dealing with on the mental health front. We have millions of adults addicted to alcohol and other drugs. They can’t control their impulse to imbibe and they can be dangerous when intoxicated. We have a substantial portion of the population taking psychotropic medications (Prozac, Xanax, Lithium, Adderall, etc). If they go off their meds (and they very often do), their mental function can break down. In this regard, we have a particular problem when children on AHCCCS become adults and lose their coverage and go off their meds. If they were taking an amphetamine-based drug for ADHD, it is not uncommon for them to become Meth addicts. We have millions of people who have undiagnosed anger management or impulse control problems.
We have millions of people whose mental health deteriorates over time, sometimes gradually, sometimes not so gradually. For example, the onset of schizophrenia often occurs in young adulthood, especially for men. A 20-year old male can be in good mental health when he buys a gun, but a basket case by his 23rd birthday. [If you want to read a fascinating story about someone losing his mental health in early adulthood, pick up Man On The Bench, by Howard Jones, a short book about how a homeless person who lived most of his adulthood on a bench arrived at that place.] Another example is elderly adults who develop dementia, often concealing their dementia for years. But an individual’s devolution may not be physiological. There are millions of cases where a traumatic event triggered a serious mental disorder.
Of particular significance to this debate, we have hundreds of thousands of veterans who have returned from defending their country, who are expert in the use of firearms but who are no longer whole mentally because of traumatic events they experienced.
Given this incredibly complex mental health scenario in America, I think it is tragically misguided to believe that we can make a meaningful impact on gun violence if our exclusive or even primary approach to the problem is to attempt to identify those individuals not suited mentally to own guns and take pre-emptive action. That is not to say that we should not adopt measures to keep guns out of the hands of the seriously mentally ill. But even if we could accomplish that task with the desired degree of precision, the level of gun violence in America still would be intolerable and still would be worse than all other developed nations.
So, I can answer the questions you’ve posed to me, but I must tell you that I find your comments discouraging in the bigger picture, because you seem to view gun violence exclusively or primarily as a mental health matter. In your first comment to my previous post, you stated that your question was “met with a lot of negative criticism, sans the referral to the video.” That’s not true. For example, Bess referred you to Australia as a model for effective gun policy. My point here is not to criticize, as we all miss things when reading, but to raise the concern that you seem to be hyper-focused on mental health in this discussion, when in my mind measures to keep guns out of the hands of the mentally ill are just one part of a multi-part program.
As for the question you raised regarding the encroachment on civil liberties if mentally ill persons are identified as such in a database used for background checks on gun purchases, I’m willing to live with some encroachment, but I think the encroachment can be minimal. I don’t believe anyone should be permitted to buy a gun with a simple background check. I would adopt the approach that other countries have used, where obtaining a license to own a gun requires an application, in which pertinent questions must be answered (under penalty of perjury), and a test of mental fitness and knowledge of gun safety. And, just as applying for a driver’s license requires a voluntary relinquishment of privacy, so would applying for a gun license. Yes, a database would be required, but the actual release of information from the database would be rare. That doesn’t eliminate the encroachment on civil liberties, but in my view reduces it to the point where concerns regarding civil liberties mush yield to the compelling public safety considerations.
Lastly, even within the subject of mental health, your approach seems too narrow, as you seem to be overly focused on identifying the “seriously mentally ill” and taking direct measures to keep guns out of their hands. If you focus only on the “seriously mentally ill,” while neglecting the “somewhat mentally ill” or whatever you want to call those who are mentally ill but not seriously mentally ill. The obvious problem is that if we don’t treat the folks who are “just a little” mentally ill, they become seriously mentally ill and, because the identification and disarming of the seriously mentally ill will never be failsafe, we increase the risk of mental illness driven gun violence. Also, you dodged my inquiry as to whether you were willing to raise taxes in order to secure the needed funds for this effort, stating only that you were “willing to increase spending, although funds are limited.” Funds are limited only by the priority you place on the program in question.Again, thanks for taking the time to discuss this issue with us. At least from my perspective, your comments are always welcome.