Friday, January 25, 2013

Short: Massacre averted

One component of gun reform that I'd like to see (based on my experience in mental health) is hotlines for reporting violently obsessed people and mandates for mental health professionals to report their concerns. Get the names into the databases so guns and ammo can't be sold to these worrisome people. Currently, our restrictions due to mental instability are not nearly tight enough. Yes, there is potential for abuse, but there can be an appeals process where a person can demonstrate their sanity and stability.

Here's a story of a family in Florida that reported a family member for having a dangerous arsenal and dangerous delusions. Thank God for the family's actions and for the police SWAT response. But it doesn't take a genius to guess this kicker:
"...the vet may walk out of the crisis stabilization unit after his mandatory seven days and demand that police return his weapons. The judge is not even sure that the state officials... can pull his concealed weapons permit."
There isn't a litmus strip that gun dealers or gun license processors can use to determine that a gun owner will cross the line and become a criminal. We need to use less certain criteria that will sometime deprive non-criminals of access to guns. Why can't we, and the NRA, live with that?

 A different Miami arsenal


T>S said...

MP - I generally don't comment on issues of social policy. But I appreciate your putting into words that you are willing to (and understand what you saying) make this trade off.

Couves said...

If the judge commits him or finds that he's mentally ill, he will become a prohibited person, under the gun control act of 1968.

But if he's not mentally ill, then I'm not sure what legal standard you'd use to take his firearms.

ModeratePoli said...


Currently there isn't a legal standard, but that is a gap in sensible regulations of guns.

There are people who don't require institutionalization and can function in society, yet there is too high a risk from them if they own guns and ammo. They would probably benefit from mental health counseling too.

However, our rights as currently understood don't cover this situation well, hence we are having more mass shootings. (Though the increase is probably also due to the availability of guns and the cachet of mass shootings.)

For such people, I think it's better not to just "lock 'em up" because we emphasize ability to live in the community, liberty, and not paying the high cost of institutionalization. But being in the community doesn't necessarily mean you should be free to buy yourself enough weapons and ammo to do a lot of damage. Convicted felons are allowed to live in society, but their guns rights are curtailed, and I recommend the same for people who raise alarms with mental health professionals. BUT THIS WOULD BE A NEW PROVISION, not just a retooling in the existing laws.

By the way, I've worked with long-term psych patients on locked units who were probably committed, though I never saw the paperwork, so I have a good idea of what it takes in terms of behavior to justify involuntary long-term commitment.

Couves said...

MP, I know what you mean about the high standard for commitment. However, the law does allow for legally disarming people who are found by the judge to be mentally ill (it seems like most of the recent shooters would fall into this category).

Regarding the Florida vet -- if state law prevents him from being institutionalized, then I’d say the law itself needs to be revisited. Krauthammer is right. We can take away people’s guns and feel good about ourselves or we can lock them up and really protect society. I don’t like the idea of involuntary commitment, but given the evidence presented in that article, I know what choice I’d make.

ModeratePoli said...

@couves, what else can you tell me about this law for disarming those found mentally ill? Any links? It is the sort of thing I had in mind, except I'd add in the hotline and the mandated duty to report.

I agree that the Florida guy needs to be committed, and he was. However, some people could be handled in an outpatient setting.

Couves said...

If this guy were really committed, then he’s already a prohibited person, but it sounds like he’s only being sent for emergency treatment. In any case, I don’t think the public would be much safer by simply taking his guns away. If he’s determined to cause harm, he’ll buy guns illegally. It’s not hard to do. The solution to cases like this is to make it easier for the judge to commit someone for as long as they are dangerous.

And just to clarify, I don’t think we should be reinstitutionalizing the mentally ill en masse, but I do think we should be institutionalizing the mentally ill in cases where it seems likely they will hurt themselves or others.

ModeratePoli said...

@couves, please tell me you're NOT making the argument that this guy will get guns anyway, so therefore gun laws are useful.

First, efficacy is not proved or disproved on the case of one case. Second, the simple availability on the black market doesn't mean that objects shouldn't be banned. It's a bigger issue than that, like is the cure worse than the problem.

In the case of this vet, I think he should have been barred from buying/possessing guns by new statute. If he should illegally buy guns, he could be arrested for that. There should of course be mental health treatment available to him too, and he should be involuntarily committed if he is delusional and dangerous.

I think we could institutionalize all people who commit mass shootings, but that is an after-the-fact approach, not a
preventive one. I'm more focused on what could be preventative.

What we know about many of the mass shooters is that they were on the radar for mental health issues, but that didn't translate into keeping guns out their hands. I would like that to happen, and it seems to me that even the NRA would like that to happen. So we should be looking for ways to operationalize it.

Couves said...

MP, just to clarify:

If he is truly delusional and dangerous, as described in the article, he should be committed to a mental health facility, which would automatically make him a prohibited person barred from possessing firearms. That prohibition against buying or possessing firearms would continue if and when he would be released.