21 minutes ago
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."