Monday, December 1, 2008

Are There Always Two Sides?

The News Journal has really made a big to-do this past week over the State Police "superchecks" that allow them to see a person's involuntary mental health history. They have written multiple articles about it here, and they have even compiled a database of handgun permit rejections here that looks back more than a decade.

So, my question is: are there really legitimate reasons for granting handgun permits to residents who are otherwise responsible citizens but who have been involuntarily placed into inpatient mental health care (which, I believe, is the only thing these "superchecks" turn up)?

I believe that one perhaps-legitimate reaction is to say no. The idea of "crazies" having a gun probably frightens most mainstream people who have no experience with mental health issues or mental illness. Or maybe these are people who have had a major negative experience dealing with someone, even a family member, who is mentally ill and should NOT have a gun. Importantly, though, (and here's the perhaps-legitimate part) the issue concerns the State Police enough to say no, and they certainly have a great deal of experience dealing with people who are not criminals but are simply in need of help...sometimes very serious and long-term help.

But, on the flip side, many would say yes, that there are examples of people who fall into this category who are absolutely responsible enough to handle owning a handgun. I think most people, after thinking long and hard about it, would come to this conclusion. A great number of teens today have a history of involuntary mental health treatment because of misunderstanding parents. Also, a history of mental health treatment may not be a bad thing, since this indicates that the person either has or is getting help to overcome any problems they may have. Also, a person who has a documented history of treatment is definitely a better bet than better than someone with untreated mental health issues who ends up slipping through the cracks of even a system of "superchecks."

Our justice system was founded on the concept that not one innocent person should ever be imprisoned, even at the cost of allowing many potentially-guilty people go free. Should this same concept apply to gun permits? Should we give people the benefit of the doubt and allow them a gun until they prove themselves irresponsible with it?

Maybe the answer is some middle ground where these people are not automatically denied a permit but are required to get a letter from a psychiatrist that certifies that they are not an immediate danger to themselves or others (I'm sure you're shaking your head saying "good luck," given the state of our modern, sue-happy society). But maybe there will be a law that says any letter like that cannot be held against the doctor, and only certifies the person's state of mind at the time of issue, or some disclaimer like that.

I'm not sure that we have a constitutional option to deny people the right to have a handgun if they haven't done anything to prove themselves criminally irresponsible (a la 2nd Amendment), but it's certainly a big question to which I have no answer.

The State Police and the ACLU are seriously at odds over this right now, and I hope everyone who reads this will write a comment and weigh in on this issue. I'd like to hear what you think, even if it's a simple "yes" or "no."


laurel said...

I'm sure that being a supporter of gun control clouds my position on the issue.

Personally, I'd feel safer knowing that a gun permit is denied to anyone with *any* history of mental illness.

Leo said...

I don't own a gun and don't care to, but I strongly believe in the 2nd amendment, and it is statistically obvious that gun control has the opposite of the intended effect (I Live near Washington, DC.)

But I can't help but think of the student at VA tech who had mental health issues and should have never had a gun. On the other hand, people can get involuntarily committed to a psychiatric ward, for example, by a vindictive ex-spouse.

Gee, don't you have any tougher questions?

Anonymous said...

I think that mental illness is too large an over-arching category. The numbers of people who take Paxil/Prozac, etc. are staggering. Should none of these people be able to buy guns? Often these are used to treat mild depression or anxiety---the likelihood of individuals taking these SSRIs for these uses turning into lunatic gunmen/women is minimal.

I also think that many parents who don't know what else to do with an out-of-control child, when given an opportunity and all other efforts seem futile, will have their child involuntarily hospitalized. Unfortunately for many males around the age of 18, mental illness rears it's ugly head. They usually find treatment or outgrow it. That trying time shouldn't follow them around for the rest of their lives.

Furthermore, backlash towards people who responsibly sought out help for their mental illness may render fewer people seeking treatment. We have only begun to make small strides towards acceptance of mental health. Let us shed the stigma, not drive people back to being afraid to speak up and reach out.

Finally, narrowing down who is a potential lunatic gunmen is like finding a needle in a haystack. Hindering people with mental illness unfairly denies many people their rights in order to find so few. Those that are determined to assault people as part of a suicide scheme probably will not be deterred by gun laws anyway. Remember, where there is a will, there's a way.

Anonymous said...

I think the "ANY mental illness" rule is the worst form of government-sanctioned discrimination. Also, it plays into the hands of the gun control lobby by denying 2nd Amendment rights to tens of thousands of responsible, taxpaying citizens.

Why should a person with treatable depression and/or anxiety be lumped in with delusional, violent psychotics? That's like putting migraine headaches in the same category as brain cancer. It's absurd, arbitrary and un-American.

99% of those with depression, anxiety, OCD and other treatable disorder are rational, responsible, law-abiding citizens that deserve the right to protect & defend themselves and their families from harm just as much as anybody else. It's preposterous to say that a kid diagnosed with ADD should be refused a CPL as an adult on that basis.

The gun control people are clearly involved in the creation of this unfair statute.