Firearms and Public Health: Misguided Mental Health Crisis

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The Mental Health and Safe Communities Act (S.2002) was introduced in 2015 in response to multiple high-profile gun violence incidents. The bill sought to increase awareness and treatment of mentally ill offenders by law enforcement officers.  However, the bill also liberalized gun ownership by removing the permanent prohibition of gun purchase or ownership by any person who has been involuntarily committed for psychiatric treatment or adjudicated to be mentally ill and restores their gun rights immediately after their involuntary commitment order expires.

deconstructing-gun-violence

 

Furthermore, it also justifies gun possession by emergency care providers, such as paramedics, Emergency Room clinicians, and crisis intervention specialists as a protection during their work hours thus leading to criminalization and labeling of the mentally ill as a population that we need armed protection against.

President Trump also signed an executive order on February 28, 2017 overriding the Obama administration rule requiring the Social Security Administration to input records of mentally disabled people into the FBI database (National Instant Criminal Background Check System) which is used to determine whether someone can purchase a firearm. This order further erodes our ability to identify individuals that should not have access to firearms on the basis of mental illness.

We strongly oppose the justification of gun use to protect the public, the labeling of the mentally ill as a dangerous population that we need to arm ourselves against and the easier access to firearms that the bill affords.

guns-health-care-82880109353Increased availability and access to guns in our community will not improve our safety. In order to prevent mentally ill members from committing criminal acts, we have to improve awareness of mental illness among law enforcement officers, adequate training in lieu of armed forces, and better access to mental health care.

 

 

Written by Tomoyo Kasuya and Shakirat Oyetunji

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6 Responses to “Firearms and Public Health: Misguided Mental Health Crisis”

  1. asraparekh Says:

    Interesting turn of events that have been mentioned in your blog.
    However, I think its not only the “mentally ill” that should not possess guns as specified in your conclusion, it’s also ill-intended people that can easily obtain possession of a gun which will cause insecurity.

    I feel stringent policies should be in place for all individuals and thorough screening should be done before allowing anyone to purchase a gun. This should include everyone and just not the “mentally ill”

    I think it is important for you to define what you mean by “mentally ill”

    • oyetunjiblog Says:

      I agree that access should be limited/restricted for all with extensive background checks but I think this is even more important amongst mentally ill patients to protect themselves and others. The post below by (bulumkofutshane) highlights some of the reasons why this should be the case with regards to the suicide rates amongst veterans, a population that is vulnerable to mental illness mostly in the form of PTSD and anxiety.
      Mental illness is the new updated term used in the bill which I agree with because it literally describes an illness of psychiatric nature. The previous language in existing gun laws utilized “mental defective” and now “mentally incompetent” and “mental illness” are used instead.

  2. bulumkofutshane Says:

    “Every day, approximately 22 American veterans commit suicide, totaling over 8,000 veteran suicides each year — I repeat, 8,000 veteran suicides each year.” – Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), Senate hearing, Feb. 3, 20154
    Access to weapons is a proximal sociocultural determinant of suicide. Between 2001 and 2011, nearly 70% of suicides among male veterans were completed with a firearm, which illustrates the magnitude of its impact. Distal sociocultural determinants of suicide in the veteran population include social support, marital status, and level of education.

    My thoughts on Easy Gun Access in US:

    Thousands perish from a disease (massacres) that had no name, we could not have, and certainly did not, talk about it in our homes or community. It is not, and would not have been proper. It would not have been polite. It would have been discomforting for so many of us.

    But the disease itself is not polite, and ignoring it won’t make it go away. It will make the problem worse, because this carnage feeds on ignorance and fear and, let’s be honest, on prejudice.

  3. trailblazingspouse Says:

    Thank you for your interesting post!

    From your post, it seems that the Act allows those who have been involuntarily committed or adjudicated to be mentally ill to now purchase guns legally. I know that actually being INVOLUNTARILY committed is not easy in today’s society and requires a high burden of proof showing that someone is an absolute imminent danger to themselves or others. Even then, it can be difficult to meet this bar as courts are very reluctant to take away someone’s freedom. Do you know what proportion of the mentally ill in the US have actually been involuntarily committed and thus would be affected by this Act? I would ague that the vast majority of those who are suicidal or severely depressed would still be able to legally purchase a gun, even before this Act.

    There are those that argue that by putting people into the FBI database, you are stigmatizing their mental illness and labeling them for life. What is your opinion on this matter?

    I agree that people with mental illness are not inherently violent and I do not believe that treating those with mental illness justifies that need for emergency care providers to possess guns. However, your basic premise seems to be that the mentally ill should not be allowed to own guns. Why is that? Are you limiting that solely to those who have been involuntarily committed for immediate threats against themselves or others? Do you have any data to show how many of these involuntarily committed mentally ill persons have gone on to harm either themselves or others with guns? Those who have been committed have, presumably, undergone treatment. Do you see a way to allow these people to once again have access to guns, which is a Constitutional right in this country?

    • oyetunjiblog Says:

      I do not know the statistics on the proportion of the mentally ill in the US have actually been involuntarily committed and thus would be affected by the act; however, one could argue that even 1 person is too many. And I agree that majority of patients that have severe depression or suicidality will still be able to purchase firearms, however, we simply should not make it so easy for them to do so. I do not understand why the removal of the restriction was deemed necessary.
      With regards to the comment about the FBI database, the existing rule allowed for notification of the affected individuals and provided a process by which they could appeal the “labeling”. I think you bring up an interesting point which is that we need to de-stigmatize mental illness. If being in a Medicare database as a diabetic patient is okay and not seen as a “stigma”, so should being in another federal system as a patient with mental illness.
      With regards to your last question about a way to allow access to guns after treatment, I propose that mental illness is not a disease you can cure per se, most forms are lifelong challenges. In my opinion, involuntary commitment, which as you mentioned is not a trivial matter and requires extensive burden of proof, should be a lifelong ban against firearm possession.
      Same way an alcoholic in remission does not later consume alcohol (even in small quantities) regardless of the number of years they have been in remission.

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