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Mental Illness, Gun Rights, And Medical Privacy

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Wrapped up in the ongoing debate over gun control in the wake of the shootings in Newtown, CT and Aurora, CO,and going all the way back to the Gabby Giffords shooting in 2011 and the Virginia Tech massacre in 2007 has been the issue of mental health and the question of how, if at all, we can ensure that mentally unstable people don’t have access to weapons. In each of the four cases I mentioned, it became fairly clear fairly early that the assailants had a history of mental illness that, in most cases, went both untreated and unreported. Sueng Hui-Cho, the shooter at a Virginia Tech had exhibited issues going back to the time he was in High School and received treatment in the months before the April 16, 2007 attack, none of which had been reported to university officials or the police. Jared Lougher, the shooter in the Giffords case, had been expelled from community college due to his behavior and spent the better part of a year after the shootings under treatment because he was deemed to be incompetent to stand trial. We know now that James Holmes had sought treatment from an University of Denver psychiatrist who had alerted university officials that he was a potential danger to himself or others. And, finally, it has become apparent that Adam Lanza suffered from some kind of mental illness that his mother had, for some bizarre reason, decided she could “treat” herself. While we don’t know for sure, it’s fair to say that there’s a very good possibility that had the conditions of these men been more widely known, these tragedies could possibly have been prevented.

The question, though, is how we handle issues like this in the context of the debate over gun ownership. Ever since Newtown, there has been discussion about expanding the database used to conduct background checks to include people who have been deemed mentally unstable. The problem with this is that there are only two ways for someone to get on this type of list. Either they would have had to have had some kind of contact with the criminal justice system, or there condition would have to have been reported by a therapist that is treating them. The second alternative, of course, raises serious issues of doctor/patient confidentiality. Currently, therapists generally have a legal duty to make some kind of report if they know a patient is a danger to themselves or others, but the  line of when that’s the case is hard to define, and the more common it becomes for therapists to report their patients to the state, the less likely that people are going to be to seek the treatment they need.

There are other dangers, of course, and a case arising out of Upstate New York lays them out fairly clearly:

BUFFALO, N.Y. — Thursday, a state Supreme Court Judge ruled guns seized from David Lewis, 35, must be returned to him after he was incorrectly identified as violating the mental health provision of the SAFE Act.

“We know that from the health care agency to the State Police, there was some kind of breach,” said Lewis’ attorney, Jim Tresmond.

Tresmond says his client was ordered to turn in his weapons last week because he was once on anti-anxiety medication, which is a violation of the SAFE Act. Wednesday, State Police informed the Erie County Clerk’s Office that it made a mistake when it said Lewis was in violation of the state’s new gun law.

But Tresmond says it was no mistake.

“When they targeted David, they not only targeted him by name, they also targeted him by his pistol permit, so they identified him as David Lewis with this particular pistol permit number on the letter that they sent to him,” said Tresmond.

In a statement, State Police say they were simply following the law. The statement says, in part:

“The State Police was very clear in its letter to the Clerk’s Office regarding the need for due diligence and the need for a positive identification by the County before they removed any weapon. The final determination on whether to revoke or suspend a pistol permit or license rests solely with the County and the licensing officials.”

“My impression still stands from when they called last night – they made a mistake,” said County Clerk Chris Jacobs.

It’s worth noting at the outset that, even before the passage of new restrictions in the face of Newtown earlier this year, New York State’s gun laws are  among the strictest in the country. The ability of law enforcement, or judges, to revoke permits is really quite broad and the process that a citizen has to go through to challenge such a decision can be time consuming and bueaucratic. At the same time, though, it strikes me that what happened here should be of grave concern for anyone concerned not just about gun rights, but about personal privacy and liberty itself because of how it handles the issue of mental health:

The NY SAFE Act requires “mental health professionals, in the exercise of reasonable professional judgment, to report if an individual they are treating is likely to engage in conduct that will cause serious harm to him- or herself or others.”

If such a determination is made, “the Division of Criminal Justice Services will determine whether the person possesses a firearms license and, if so, will notify the appropriate local licensing official, who must suspend the license. The person’s firearms will then be removed.”

The law has come under fire from gun-rights advocates as well as mental health professionals, who fear the new law discourages people from seeking professional help for mental health issues.

“If people with suicidal or homicidal impulses avoid treatment for fear of being reported in this way, they may be more likely to act on those impulses,” Dr. Paul Appelbaum, director of the Division of Law, Ethics and Psychiatry at Columbia University, told the Huffington Post.

“It undercuts the clinical approach to treating these impulses, and instead turns it into a public-safety issue,” Appelbaum said.

The other side of the coin, of course, is the argument that it is in the public interest for people who are mentally unstable and dangerous to be reported to the authorities and be deprived of the ability to legally purchase a weapon. I don’t disagree with that proposition, but the manner in which it was applied in the case I linked above demonstrates quite clearly why it is going to be difficult to use background checks to screen out people who may be mentally unstable. The SAFE Act in particular seems to me to be overly broad in defining what qualifies as a reportable condition. It’s one thing for a person who is delusional on the level of a Seung-Hui Choi or Jared Loughner to be caught up in the net, it is quite another for someone who was apparently merely on an anti-anxiety drug to have their Constitutional rights limited. If taking that kind of medication is enough to get you on a list, then what about the millions upon millions of Americans who are on some form of anti-depressant or who take medication that alters their mood in any manner? Are they going to get put on a government list too, and what, exactly, is the government going to do with that list? History is replete with examples of psychiatry being abused by the state, and the danger of abuse becomes even higher when the law broadens the number of conditions that are reportable to the state.

Saying that people who are dangerous, or potentially dangerous, because of their mental condition shouldn’t be allowed to buy guns is a good talking point, and in general it’s an idea that I don’t have any objection to. How you implement that idea, and what it means for the medical privacy of American citizens, is quite another and something that even people who aren’t ardent gun rights proponents ought to be concerned about. What the case of David Lewis shows us is the danger of going too far in the name of “public safety.”

Update  Jazz Shaw has further comments about the Lewis case and the SAFE Act.

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About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May, 2010 and also writes at Below The Beltway. Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. JKB says:

    It shows the dangers in using platitudes. This may have been just a case of zealous bureaucrat but the threat of from the very liberal psychiatric professionals is also very real. Time and again, we’ve seen not professional ethics but the willingness to lie to push their personal politics/agenda. It has long been known “therapists” are hostile to men (See comments over the past years by psychologists and psychiatrists who blog)

    When they immediately start to classify every military member/veteran who has ever had a headache as PTSD and thus a threat, then you see the problem.

    Couple all that with the very real tendency of, we’ll say the most aggressive, Progressives to lie on someone and you have a problem. See how Progs have used SWATing, accusations of racism, etc. When I was in government, as a person who wasn’t a Progressive, you made sure not to be alone with many individuals lest you find yourself accused of something if you did tow the Prog line. Always have witnesses.

    Long ago the pediatrician my aunt worked for gave her this advice when she considered consulting a psychologist for her son, who had trouble in school (these days he’d be doped by the education establishment) at an early age. “If you do, find a young one, after a while the others are as crazy as their patients.”

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 10

  2. stonetools says:

    There is never going to be law that perfectly balances the rights of the public and the individual. Much same objections were originally made by conservatives against the Miranda rules, but then in favor of public safety and against individuals. Four decades on, very few conservatives think the Miranda rules should be abolished.
    Sounds like the SAFE Act may need to be adjusted slightly so as to allow people with anti-anxiety drugs to own guns.

    If taking that kind of medication is enough to get you on a list, then what about the millions upon millions of Americans who are on some form of anti-depressant

    This may be defensible. Far more people die from gun suicides than from gun homicides-something the NRA just passes over in silence.

    Are they going to get put on a government list too, and what, exactly, is the government going to do with that list? History is replete with examples of psychiatry being abused by the state, and the danger of abuse becomes even higher when the law broadens the number of conditions that are reportable to the state.

    This is the good old slippery slope argument, which IMO is always wrong. “If we allow background checks, before we know it, they’ll be confiscating our guns, because do you know who also was in favor of background checks” is the NRA’s most famous example of this nonsense.
    There is no evidence that the government intends to use those lists for any nefarious purpose. When such evidence is forthcoming, that is the time to deal with the issue.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 14

  3. Photo Caption: “Oh come on, Windows 8 isn’t THAT bad.”

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  4. @stonetools:

    If taking that kind of medication is enough to get you on a list, then what about the millions upon millions of Americans who are on some form of anti-depressant

    This may be defensible. Far more people die from gun suicides than from gun homicides-something the NRA just passes over in silence.

    A lot of people taking anti-depressants aren’t suffering from depression, as it’s used to treat a number of other disorders like anxiety, OCD, etc.

    Also, only 3.4% of people diagnosed with depressive disorders become suicidal, so again you’re taking away the rights of millions of people who are no threat to themselves or others just to catch a tiny fraction that are a problem.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 21 Thumb down 1

  5. michael reynolds says:

    If you have a storeroom full of guns and ammo you are ipso facto mentally ill. If you think registering guns is Hitlerian you are ipso facto mentally ill.

    We begin with an insane premise: that everyone should be able to own guns. And then we’re surprised to find ourselves trapped in looney discussions of just exactly how crazy you have to be to own a weapon designed solely for blowing another human being’s body apart.

    The Founders were wrong. They made a terrible mistake. It’s not their only mistake. They were also wrong about slavery and women’s rights, just to name the two most egregiously obvious examples. They were wrong a lot because they were writing in the 18th century and no matter how smart you are you cannot anticipate two plus centuries of change.

    They were wrong. Gun rights are a mistake. But of course cult members are incapable of self-correction or of admitting their obvious madness.

    A lot of picking around the edges doesn’t solve the real problem, because the real problem is gun ownership, period, full stop. People should not own guns. You desperately need to shoot a deer for reasons that in themselves should disqualify you from owning a gun? Fine, you can check one out at a registered hunting club after you prove your fitness for that privilege.

    Now, obviously changing the constitution in this regard is effectively impossible. And the Supremes are senile old folk who are in no danger of seeing sense. Which leaves voluntary action, social pressure as means to deal with this. And that means educating youth out of the gun cult. Stigmatize gun ownership. It should at very least be the equivalent of lighting a cigar in a hospital nursery.

    Reduce the number of gun owners, reduce the net number of guns in society. Make the “right” irrelevant. Free speech gives me the right to tell some random stranger they’re fat and ugly. Social pressure inhibits me. Doesn’t change the Constitution, but it changes everything that matters.

    Poorly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 14 Thumb down 43

  6. rudderpedals says:

    I read through the linked articles but the drug wasn’t identified. If it was an anti-psychotic would that make it any better?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  7. 11B40 says:

    Greetings:

    I grew up in the Bronx of the ’50s and ’60s, even though there still seems to be some debate about the accuracy of that statement. Back there and then, the Sullivan law covered the acquisition of pistol permit. The folk wisdom as that if you didn’t have a cash business, weren’t a retired police officer, or were politically connected, you weren’t getting. In our small by New York City standards neighborhood, an undocumented firearm could be acquired within two or three days, a specific make and model within a couple of weeks and at prices less than retail. (Our neighborhood was somewhere between “I can get it for you wholesale.” and “It fell of a truck that didn’t stop.” kind of place.

    In the ’70s, the rulers of New York City decided that long guns (rifles, shotguns, almost assault weapons) needed to be registered if any of its citizens were to survive the firearm onslaughts. Of course, this had no real impact on murder rates or methods, but that may not have been what was actually on the rulers minds. So, in a perverse kind of way, I have to admire the perseverance of the personal disarmament folks. Their multi-generational timeframes have held together long enough for an appropriate frontman and manipulatable atrocity to be conjoined and the winds of change a filling the sails.

    So, I look forward to seeing how this situation evolves. Taking another slice off someone else’s salami sure seems to be something that these folks seem to relish. But I think that we to Federalize the adventure. I would guess that Attorney General Holder’s Justice Department would take on the responsibility fastly and furiously. Or, perhaps, it could be turned over to that Janet lady’s Department of Homeland Security now that have gotten all our borders sealed.

    The part of the plan that I would like to hear is the part about how, whatever process that is devised, it will not be corrupted by administrations and ideologues who have quite the proven record of corrupting their responsibilities for what they see as political advantage. Once you’ve broken through that “Rule of Law” thingy, what to stop them.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 1

  8. JKB says:

    @michael reynolds: Make the “right” irrelevant.

    When seconds count the police are only minutes away.

    Good news, you live in Denver and the DPD would be there within minutes.” That got another chuckle from the audience. And then she had to try and save face by nervously saying this: “Probably be dead anyway…with that kind of firepower.”

    So the only way to make the “right” irrelevant would be to make the “right” to life irrelevant.

    Now I don’t doubt that is part of the plan, see how the MSM and the Progs are willfully ignoring the trial of Dr. Gosnell. He was only doing what Obama has supported, killing babies that survived the abortion attempt, i.e., even though they made it into independent life, they had not “right” to life.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 10 Thumb down 9

  9. JKB says:

    Oh, look, work by the so-called psychiatric professionals:

    Beware the DSM-5, the soon-to-be-released fifth edition of the “psychiatric bible,” the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual. The odds will probably be greater than 50 percent, according to the new manual, that you’ll have a mental disorder in your lifetime.

    Although fewer than 6 percent of American adults will have a severe mental illness in a given year, according to a 2005 study, many more—more than a quarter each year—will have some diagnosable mental disorder. That’s a lot of people. Almost 50 percent of Americans (46.4 percent to be exact) will have a diagnosable mental illness in their lifetimes, based on the previous edition, the DSM-IV. And the new manual will likely make it even “easier” to get a diagnosis.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 5

  10. michael reynolds says:

    @JKB:

    You are so lost in the cult there’s no point talking to you about this. I might as well discuss aliens with a Scientologist. On this issue you’re deranged.

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 6 Thumb down 18

  11. walt moffett says:

    @michael reynolds:

    When do the book burnings of Zane Grey Westerns, etc start as part of the make guns evil campaign?

    To the point of how and when, requiring a therapist to report a dangerous condition is reasonable as does a visit from a police officer and if needed a court proceeding where the State must prove its case with the end result confiscation, commitment to the State Hospital (f warranted) subject to a later hearing (if requested) to restore the owners property.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  12. Gromitt Gunn says:

    @JKB: And what are the odds that you’ll have some sort of physical illness diagnosed in a given year? Why should this be considered surprising?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  13. michael reynolds says:

    @walt moffett:

    It’s cute that you don’t even realize how many westerns have a gun control message. What’s the first thing Wyatt Earp would do when “taming” a town? Gun control.

    In fact, westerns writ large are the story of civilization overtaking men who lived by the gun.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 7

  14. Boyd says:

    @michael reynolds:

    On this issue you’re deranged.

    Well, you’re partly right, Mike. On this issue, somebody here is deranged, but I think you missed the truly irrational person in this discussion.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 4

  15. stonetools says:

    @Stormy Dragon:

    A lot of people taking anti-depressants aren’t suffering from depression, as it’s used to treat a number of other disorders like anxiety, OCD, etc.

    Also, only 3.4% of people diagnosed with depressive disorders become suicidal, so again you’re taking away the rights of millions of people who are no threat to themselves or others just to catch a tiny fraction that are a problem.

    First of all, what “rights” are being taken away? The right to own a gun while you are under medical treatment that you can use to commit suicide with? What kind of grotesque right is that?
    Also too, such “infringement” of this “right” is temporary. Once you end medication treatment, your right to own a gun returns. I might that there is no”perfect solution” here, only evidence-based “imperfect solutions”. And the evidence is 18,000 people a year commit suicide with guns. Once you are dead, there are no more “rights” to enjoy.
    I might add that millions of people who commit non-violent crimes permanently lose their rights to own guns. That’s an imperfect solution too, but most gun rights folks are fine with that.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 10

  16. stonetools says:

    @11B40:

    The part of the plan that I would like to hear is the part about how, whatever process that is devised, it will not be corrupted by administrations and ideologues who have quite the proven record of corrupting their responsibilities for what they see as political advantage. Once you’ve broken through that “Rule of Law” thingy, what to stop them.

    Shorter 11B40:

    Imperfect laws have been passed and imperfectly administered in the past, so let’s not to try to pass any laws in the present.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0

  17. PD Shaw says:

    Its not simply a question of public safety versus individual freedom, the main problem with what New York is doing is its discouraging people from seeking and obtaining mental health treatment. My wife is a therapist, and yes, people will parcel out information to her with fear of potential consequences in mind. To say to someone, I think I might kill myself is not an easy step to take, but it becomes more difficult to take when you wonder to yourself, “what will happen to me, if I confess?” Will I be whisked away to a padded cell for the rest of days? Will my parents be mad at me? Will I ever get a job again. Will I be ruined? Perhaps its better to just push through on my own.

    Therapy is a voluntary act. All the laws should err towards encouraging people to seek help.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 19 Thumb down 1

  18. Dazedandconfused says:

    Optional musical accompaniment for this post: http://youtu.be/WHZ9jh7IhkU

    Lithium, what a conundrum for gun owners. Only think that keeps them sane enough to have a gun., yet now they must choose….one or the other…

    The lobby says more attention should be paid to mental health, but when the concept moves to not letting deranged people have guns the ol’ “confiscate” knee jerks, just like always. Impossible argument.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 2

  19. stonetools says:

    @PD Shaw:

    Therapy is a voluntary act. All the laws should err towards encouraging people to seek help.

    I wonder if there are places on earth where mentally ill people are encouraged to seek treatment and indeed are enabled to receive treatment though universal health insurance, yet have laws which effectively keep guns out of hands of homicidal maniacs? Oh yeah, every other modern industrialized country on Earth.

    Somehow, countries like Australia, Canada, the UK, and Germany achieve these things without lapsing into Stalinist tyranny, or being overrun by gun-wielding “outlaws”. Seems to me that’s empirical evidence that this can be done. Note that all these countries have laws that prohibit possession of guns by the mentally ill, yet there is zero evidence that the mentally ill flee treatment in order to buy and keep guns.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 11 Thumb down 4

  20. C. Clavin says:

    “…Couple all that with the very real tendency of, we’ll say the most aggressive, Progressives to lie on someone and you have a problem. See how Progs have used SWATing, accusations of racism, etc. When I was in government, as a person who wasn’t a Progressive, you made sure not to be alone with many individuals lest you find yourself accused of something if you did tow the Prog line. Always have witnesses…”

    That paragraph is chock-full of paranoia and delusion.
    Yet apparently this person who suffers from paranoia and delusion is allowed to own guns.
    Therein lies the problem.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 2

  21. @Dazedandconfused:

    Entirely separate from the gun control debate, the sadly common impression that “taking medication for a mental disorder” == “deranged” adds a lot of unnecessary suffering to society as it unnecessarily stigmatizes people.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 13 Thumb down 0

  22. john personna says:

    The public has tilted on violence and gun control. Whether there was an increase in shootings, or tolerance for shootings just decreased, doesn’t really matter. Especially post Newtown, voters were ready for change.

    In that environment, “it is the mentally ill, not the guns” was an approved meme.

    This has always been the problem with it, as many of us noted. You don’t know who is “that crazy” until they prove it. Preemptive intercession would be difficult to achieve at all, but would have rights problems, privatcy problems, and create reverse incentives.

    This is why “find the mentally ill” was never a good ALTERNATIVE to gun control.

    Now, there are certainly a category of mentally ill that should be identified, and those are the ones who have already acted out, proved themselves a risk. They, and other criminals, should not have access to guns. This is intercession, but not preemptive. It is in response to criminal behavior, thus it does not have the same rights problems, privatcy problems, nor create reverse incentives.

    Remember:

    Background checks in Colorado stop 38 from buying guns who were convicted of homicides, 600 burglars, 1300 who committed felonious assaults, 400 had existing restraining orders were stopped, and 236 showed up to pick up their guns but were arrested because of existing warrants for violent felonies

    I’m sure a fair number of those were mentally ill, as well.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 1

  23. john personna says:

    Re. above, catching 400 people who have restraining orders against them, who want guns, seems like a really good indication that you are stopping “the mentally ill.”

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 1

  24. Gustopher says:

    @stonetools:

    First of all, what “rights” are being taken away? The right to own a gun while you are under medical treatment that you can use to commit suicide with? What kind of grotesque right is that?

    If oft-quoted adage is that your rights to swing your fists end where my nose begins. Not your own nose.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 1

  25. john personna says:

    @stonetools:

    While what you say is true, I dislike the structure necessary for such a system.

    Let’s say I own guns, and want to talk to a psyh* about improving my happiness, finding better life goals. Let’s say I think I’m good with my guns.

    What process needs to be in place, so that the psyh* can actually interceed, if he feels differently?

    Do you criminalize gun ownership while simply under counseling? Or do you need a system of courts to determine not crime, but risk of crime?

    I’m afraid that a system which essentially tried people for risk would be quite Kafkaesque.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 12 Thumb down 0

  26. john personna says:

    @Gustopher:

    I do think we can be more compassionate than that. Let people who have demonstrated self-harm be put under some sort of management, guardianship or restraining order.

    On the other hand, I dislike the power placed in the hands of a generic counselor if he can, with one phone call, trigger a gun siezure. Not every counselor would use that power with good judgement.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 0

  27. matt bernius says:

    @PD Shaw:

    To say to someone, I think I might kill myself is not an easy step to take, but it becomes more difficult to take when you wonder to yourself, “what will happen to me, if I confess?” Will I be whisked away to a padded cell for the rest of days? Will my parents be mad at me? Will I ever get a job again. Will I be ruined? Perhaps its better to just push through on my own.

    And, to be clear, if you were to say those magic words with any degree of seriousness* in the presence of a health care worker, then there is a very likely chance that you will be force hospitalized for observation.

    And in part, this is due to the fact that if the health care worker does not take action, and you do harm yourself, the health care worker can be liable to criminal or civil suit.

    And, I can tell you that, having talked with people in the mental health profession, many are more than a bit concerned about the mental health part of Obama’s executive order. The fear isn’t so much that people will stop coming to them (though there is some of that). Therapists and others concerns are there is no good framework about how “serious” is “serious” when it comes to reporting someone. Hence they feel very exposed and worry about potentially losing their license or being libel for civil damages.

    And, given the move to medicalizing emotional issues (and treating them with pharmaceuticals), there is some basis in @JKB’s concern. Without a strong set of guidelines as to what constitutes a serious mental/emotional condition, this system, while well meaning, opens up a huge can of worms.

    * – Seriousness, btw, is in the eye of the beholder — i.e. the health care professional

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0

  28. stonetools says:

    @john personna:

    Let’s say I own guns, and want to talk to a psyh* about improving my happiness, finding better life goals. Let’s say I think I’m good with my guns

    Says it all there, really. We don’t let people under psychiatric treatment have the final say on whether they’re “good with their guns.” I’m sure Jason Holmes and Jared Loughner thought they were “good with their guns”. I’m certainly open to a system where people don’t automatically give up their rights to guns if there under a pysch*’s care. There should be a tripwire, though.If they start talking about harming themselves or others, the guns get taken away. The Constitution isn’t a suicide pact.
    I also think we should respect a psychiatrist’s expertise in their chosen field. If a psychiatrist thinks someone is a danger to himself or others, their exercise of discretion in recommending that their patient’s guns should be taken away should be respected. I’m Ok with an appeals process from that decision as well.
    Again, too, let’s look at actual evidence. Are there lots of psychiatrists out there ordering that their patients give up their guns? Frankly, its the other way. Psychiatrists find it difficult to commit patients even when they are issuing death threats. Where is the evidence that psychiatrists will go around “grabbing the guns” of mildly depressed people? Such evidence only exists in the fevered imaginations of paranoid gun worshipers. What could happen isn’t evidence.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 2

  29. stonetools says:

    @Gustopher:

    If oft-quoted adage is that your rights to swing your fists end where my nose begins. Not your own nose.

    Pretty sure Mr. Jefferson was talking about sane fist swingers. In his day, insane fist swingers were locked up.
    This has been another episode of Short Responses to Historically Out of Context Quotations.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 1

  30. john personna says:

    @stonetools:

    OK, when you say “We don’t let people under psychiatric treatment have the final say on whether they’re ‘good with their guns.’” do you mean currently, or under your proposal?

    I wasn’t aware that psychologists could legally remove guns, on their own call, in America.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  31. stonetools says:

    @matt bernius:

    Therapists and others concerns are there is no good framework about how “serious” is “serious” when it comes to reporting someone. Hence they feel very exposed and worry about potentially losing their license or being libel for civil damages.

    So the solution is to draw up guidelines. The “gun rights” advocates’ preferred answer is that to draw up such guidelines is “impossible”because “lawful gun owner’s” rights will inevitably be infringed. Here’s a clue: just about every other modern, civilized society has such guidelines.
    We don’t have to re-invent the wheel. We can learn from what Canada or Australia or Germany has done.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 2

  32. john personna says:

    (Or put another way, I thought that we had rights, and courts which could abridge those rights, but that no mere “case worker” could, without a prior court ruling, himself abridge rights.)

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  33. john personna says:

    (Or put yet another way, I think the constitution says that citizens may own guns, for some value of “guns.” It would take much more transformation of US society for the right to be changed, than for the definition of “guns” to be changed. Values of “citizen” are more fixed. As I’ve noted in the past, the “guns” definition was changed in the National Firearms Act of 1934. It could be changed again.)

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  34. stonetools says:

    @john personna:

    I wasn’t aware that psychologists could legally remove guns, on their own call, in America.

    AFAIK, they can’t. I’m talking about Logical Earth, not about here on Earth Prime :- (. Sometimes I slip and imagine I’m in the other place. In the other place, the NRA has no power, Wayne LaPierre is seen as a discredited huckster, and Justice Scalia is a retired district court judge.

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  35. john personna says:

    @stonetools:

    Do you watch Wallander? I think your world is Sweden, possibly the dark side of Sweden, or possibly only the English idea of the dark side of Sweden.

    From my American perspective, as much as I love the Swedish safety net, I am uncomfortable with apparatchiks deciding among themselves my future. If I hunt ducks, and my counselor wants my guns, I want my day in court.

    (I recently tasted duck for the first time, at a pricey restaurant. My comment was that if I’d known how good ducks were, I would have learned how to shoot them.)

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  36. stonetools says:

    Swedish gun laws:

    Gun ownership requires license and is regulated by the weapon law (Vapenlagen 1996:67) further regulations are found in weapon decree (Vapenförordningen 1996:70) and FAP 551-3 – RPSFS 2009:13 “Rikspolisstyrelsens föreskrifter och allmänna råd om vapenlagstiftningen”. The law doesn’t ban any specific firearms or weapons, it merely states the requirements to own one. Everything from pepperspray to full-automatic machine guns are technically legal, and license to civilians can be given in ‘special’ cases. Like the other Nordic countries Sweden has a high rate of gun ownership, due to the popularity of hunting. The weapons law doesn’t apply to air guns and similar with a projectile energy less than 10 joules at the end of barrel. These require no license and may be bought by any person over 18 years. Breech-loading rifles manufactured before 1890 are exempt as well. The gun license is obtained from the Police, and one must be in good standing and at least 18 years old, but exceptions regarding age can be made. To apply one must either be a member in an approved shooting club for at least six months or pass a hunting examination (jägarexamen). The former is mostly used to legally acquire pistols for sport shooting and the latter for hunting rifles. A gun registered for sportshooting may not be used in hunting. You are allowed to hunt without passing an hunting-exam, if you are chaparoned by someone that has passed the exam. The minimum age for taking an hunting exam is 15 years. A person under 18 years may not own a firearm him- or herself, unless an exception have been made. A person with a gun license may legally under supervision lend his or her gun to a person at least 15 years and older. A person may be granted license to own up to six hunting rifles, ten pistols or a mix of eight rifles and pistols. Owning more firearms than this requires a valid reason. Firearms must be stored in an approved gun safe.

    Not guite the gunless, 1984-style hellhole you imagined. One more data point for a reality-based, evidence-based approach to gun law reform instead of imagining what might happen.

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  37. Andre Kenji says:

    The problem of barring the so called mentally ill from buying guns is that there is a strong stigma against being mentally ill in the United States. There is no safety net for these people, and many people does not admit that they have problems. They don´t seek treatment. People talk about the mentally ill as people that should be segregated from the society: that´s what conservatives are saying when they talk about the issue.

    Banning these people from buying guns is another layer of stigma. Many people that want to buy guns would simply hide their problems. I like the idea of requiring a license to buy guns, and requiring people to pass exams and courses to get a license.

    But I don´t live in the US, and I know that people are not going to accept it.

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  38. RAH says:

    @stonetools:

    The evidence is in the story . The man was ordered to turn in his guns. He had been a registered owner. That is the reason we are against registry. It will be used to target gun owners.

    I do not know why this man’s doctor listed him,maybe they misunderstood the law. But the law allows just this to happen. There was no mistake by the police . They had him as a registered owner

    My question is how did the guy get a State Supreme judge to hear the case so fast?

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  39. michael reynolds says:

    @stonetools:

    We don’t have to re-invent the wheel. We can learn from what Canada or Australia or Germany has done.

    Sure, but only if we want fewer murders and suicides and accidental shootings of children.

    What we actually want is profit. This is all about money — as usual in this country. The NRA is just the propaganda arm of gun manufacturers. The NRA exists to tend the paranoid gun cult that JKB belongs to and to draw focus away from the real villains: Colt, Winchester, Baretta, etc…

    From Colt’s point of view there’s exactly the same dollar amount of profit selling a gun to a legitimate hunter as to a mass-killer. There’s the same profit margin for Winchester in selling a bullet that will find its way into a deer as a bullet that will blow the face off a child. They don’t care where they make their money, so long as they make it.

    “Gun rights” are a distraction, the NRA is a shill, in the end this is about nothing but money and about the men who happily profit from rape, suicide, accident and murder.

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  40. Dave says:

    @stonetools: ” Once you end medication treatment, your right to own a gun returns.”
    This would possibly have the reverse effect of lowering suicide rates. I am far less concerned about the person responsibly taking their medication and treating their illness, than one who is off their meds. People sometimes stop treatment because they are feeling better due to the meds, then get depressive again weeks or months later. This would effectively return guns to the hands of people who may be less likely to be responsible. The entire problem with the mental health debate is that the ones seeking treatment and responsibly taking their meds would be apparently on a list as in the NY case. The ones to worry about are the ones not seeking treatment or doing anything to help themselves. A major problem that underscores this issue is buying a gun is far cheaper than seeking mental health treatment even with most insurance plans.

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  41. PD Shaw says:

    @matt bernius: I can’t speak to the obligations of health care workers in general, but therapists receive professional training on their duties to their clients, and their duties to people their clients threaten to harm. I believe the most common third-party situation is when a man tells his therapist he intends to kill his ex-wife. He may not be diagnosable as mentally ill, right? He may just be a piece of shit. He could be shooting his mouth off as well, so its a judgment call. Its not about the diagnosis, its about the foreseeability of harm and the imminence of harm.

    What New York appears to be doing is crazy. The diagnosis does not tell you whether someone is dangerous to themselves or others, that’s a different question. The prescription does not tell you the diagnosis. And a diagnosis, even if correct, is not permanent. Some people in this country are actually treated; they get better.

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  42. john personna says:

    @stonetools:

    Ye gods, any viewer of Wallander knows they have guns.

    We were talking about something else, the state intervention into things Americans consider freedom. Consider Pastor Svensson, convicted of “hate crimes” for simply preaching against homosexuality.

    While we dislike prejudice here, we’d probably call preaching “free speech.”

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  43. C. Clavin says:

    Regarding some comments above…I frankly think shrinks are quacks.
    I’m not interested in trusting potential life and death decisions to them.
    In any gun control scenario the mental health profession will be the weakest link.

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  44. C. Clavin says:

    Can there be a bigger invitation to a Kafkaesque nightmare than to put this kind of power in the hands of shrinks?
    They have a financial interest in keeping you on the couch.
    What’s next…psych evals for drivers licenses?
    How many kids have been diagnosed with ADHD who simply drank too much orange soda?
    I trust meth-addicts more than shrinks.

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  45. michael reynolds says:

    @C. Clavin:

    What’s next…psych evals for drivers licenses?

    You have to admit, it would cut traffic. The Beltway could be a green space.

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  46. C. Clavin says:

    I would like to get JKB, Jenos, Tsar and Superdope into a room with Dr. Phil…there’s nothing but upside there.

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  47. phil says:

    This concerns me, because i have anxiety and take anti-anxiety medication. have been for over 10 years and i aint a threat to myself nor others. I’d hate to have my firearms confiscated because the bureaucrats decided to lump people with anxiety in with paranoid delusional schizophrenics.

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  48. Dazedandconfused says:

    It’s similar to the airline pilots conundrum. Can’t admit they are having any “issues” without being grounded, and getting ones job back is going to be a chore. At best. Therefore there are very few pilots who ever have “issues”. They know of one JAL pilot tried to crash a plane. They suspect an Egypt Air crash may have been something similar. There was an A-10 driver who went Major Tom about 10 years ago.

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  49. anjin-san says:
    “…Couple all that with the very real tendency of, we’ll say the most aggressive, Progressives to lie on someone and you have a problem. See how Progs have used SWATing, accusations of racism, etc. When I was in government, as a person who wasn’t a Progressive, you made sure not to be alone with many individuals lest you find yourself accused of something if you did tow the Prog line. Always have witnesses…”

    That paragraph is chock-full of paranoia and delusion.

    I’ve spent a lot of time around people who are clinically paranoid. This more or less qualifies.

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  50. Jack says:

    @michael reynolds: And does anyone disagree that Michael’s opinion is held by the majority of liberals in local, state, and federal government? Meanwhile they all say No, they’re not coming for your guns, only the dangerous ones. And then, over time, they broaden the definition of dangerous, or those they perceive as unable to be trusted with a gun–to the point only the government and criminals have guns. Micheal, you are the prime example of what is wrong with liberalism. Like you, I too have an opinion, liberalism is a mental disorder and you should all be locked up. But we all know about opinions, don’t we Michael?

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  51. Jack says:

    @michael reynolds: Michael, I love how you and others want to compare those today who chose to carry and defend themselves to the “old west”. If you look at your example, Tombstone had three shooting deaths that year, all resulting from the OK corral incident. Meanwhile today is much more dangerous than the old west and Chicago had over 500 shooting deaths last year. Notice I don’t call them gun deaths anymore than I’ll call deaths during a DUI car deaths.

    You long for this utopian society where no one has a gun yet all your pixie dust and unicorns will get you is survival of the fittest because there will always be someone bigger and stronger that want’s something you have and is willing to take it by force. The gun is the great equalizer and forces those that would choose to use force over reason to reconsider.

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  52. Doc says:

    @stonetools: You’re a statist piece of excrement.

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  53. Jack says:

    @stonetools: I’ll bet 10 to one you believe we should legalize drugs because the government shouldn’t be involved in what another person puts in their body. I’ll also bet you’re all for the reproductive right of women to choose, yet you, the oh, so liberal want to rail against guns because someone may commit suicide? Should the government be involved? Should it be able to limit how a person ends their own life? That’s right, the person and their production are a possession of the state and that may lead to less tax income, so we can’t have that person offing themselves with a gun! Never mind that they’ll find some other way to do it!

    Your argument get’s no points for effort and we are all a little dumber for having read it.

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  54. Doc says:

    @michael reynolds: You’re right, but I think we need to get rid of the entire Constitution and go back to individual and states rights. They’d for sure sentence all old bald-headed farts who wear sunglasses inside to exile in California.

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  55. michael reynolds says:

    @Doc:

    The usual level of remark from cultists.

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  56. michael reynolds says:

    @Jack:
    I don’t want your guns. You and your generation of paranoid cultists are hopeless. Keep your guns. Stroke them and get a little stiffie. Dont care. You’re irrelevant. We’re just going to move past you. And then you’ll get old and die.

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  57. Jack says:

    @michael reynolds: And yet I have already passed on the liberty of gun ownership to two generations. And my family members have passed it on the their children as well. No matter how much you try, we will always be here. Meanwhile you look like you’re about to keel over at any minute. One can wish…

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  58. michael reynolds says:

    @Jack:

    Look me up when one of your kids accidentally shoots himself or a friend. You can tell me what a good role model you’ve been.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 7

  59. michael reynolds says:

    What my fellow liberals upthread fail I think to realize is that they’re playing a pointless game. There is no point in these marginal laws. There’s no point in engaging the cult. You’re talking to crazy people. You’re talking to people who are no more likely to see the light on guns than a Klansman is to see the light on race. You’re playing the NRA game.

    This is not about laws that nibble at the margins. In fact, it’s not about law at all. Fighting this out over law is a losing tactic. This is about hearts and minds.

    It matters not at all if some old farts in gooberville want to masturbate with their guns. Let them. It matters not at all what the NRA has to say. The NRA are pimps. Their raison d’etre is to draw fire away from the real villains.

    This issue should be handled the way gay marriage has been: hearts and minds. And especially focus on the younger generation who are not already members of the cult, who have not already been set in stone by decades of this idiotic debate.

    This is generational. The win will come with generational change, not with laws that excite the cult. Ignore the cult. Move past them. They’re the past, and the change we need is in the future.

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  60. Jack says:

    @michael reynolds: Spoken just like a true Nazi. Hitler would be proud!

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  61. stonetools says:

    One of the interesting things about this case is that the system worked. The county agency charged with identifying violations of the SAFE Act made a wrong determination originally, the gun owner appealed, and the court overturned the original decision after a hearing. The gun owner received due process. In a society of laws, that’s about all we can hope for-that we get a fair hearing. We can’t and shouldn’t expect to get perfect justice from omniscient rulers-at least in this world.

    It’s also clear that merely receiving anti-anxiety medication is NOT a violation of the SAFE Act that would require that you give up your guns. The judge so found. It means that, contrary to the implications of the initial post, you don’t have to give up your guns merely because you are under medication or a doctor’s care. This is the relevant provision:

    Requires designated mental health professionals who believe a mental health patient made a credible threat of harming others to report the threat to a mental health director, who would then have to report serious threats to the state Department of Criminal Justice Services. A patient’s gun could be taken from him or her.

    This is a considerable distance from saying that people who take medication for psychiatric disorders must forfeit their guns. The agency overreached, and the judge corrected the agency. That’s how good systems of justice work. Now you could say that the agency should have made the right call in the first place, and you would be right. But humans don’t make perfect systems-just self-correcting ones.
    Also important, too, this is so far the ONLY example of such a case. We aren’t talking about an epidemic: we are talking about what John Persona calls a corner case. Its an anomaly. In the 58 counties of New York State, there is ONE example of agency overreach. This indicates to me that there isn’t a systemic problem here.
    What’s more, its not like there isn’t anybody looking. I’m sure the gun industry has been watching like a hawk for test cases. In short, I think there is less here than meets the eye. One anomalous situation does not make a case for the abolition of a regime for keeping guns out of the hands of the mentally ill.

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  62. stonetools says:

    Having read Jazz Shaw’s “contribution” over at Hot Air, I feel compelled to add we have to worry about more than government overreach: we have to worry about right wing paranoia.
    Its one thing to be concerned about the possibility of government overreach in pursuit of the legitimate objective of keeping guns out of the hands of the mentally ill: its quite another to blare:

    DON’T BE FOOLED. GUN CONFISCATION HAS ALREADY BEGUN IN NY.

    By whipping up hysteria about “gun confiscation”, over a single case, Jazz Shaw isn’t really “contributing ” to the debate, IMO.

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  63. Tyrell says:

    @michael reynolds: Let’s try reducing the number of career criminals, gang members, drug pushers, and other various thugs roaming the streets seeking more innocent victims. Many of these thugs have been released time and again to resume their career of violence. And just where do these people get their guns ? From gun traffickers!! That’s the people the law needs to round up and throw away the key. Gangs: the courts and government have the power to break these gangs. Use the racketeering laws. Have a nationwide system of registry so that every citizen can know if and where gang members are residing; put a huge sign in front of their house. Put bumper stickers all over their cars!! Have neighborhood groups follow them everywhere. Have huge bright lights shining on their houses. Have police search and shake them down at least once a day. Better yet, have them deported: any where but here !! Let’s give the law abiding citizens some rights instead of taking them away. Ban criminals!!

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  64. rudderpedals says:

    @RAH: My question is how did the guy get a State Supreme judge to hear the case so fast?

    New York State’s “Supreme Courts” are actually its lower level trial courts. The NY State Court of Appeal (?Appeals?) is the highest court in the state. The naming system is sort of inverted from the usual sense.

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  65. anjin-san says:

    exile in California

    You mean you are going to kick people out of He Haw Junction and force them to live in Santa Barbara?

    Yea, that’s a fearsome threat…

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  66. matt bernius says:

    @stonetools:

    So the solution is to draw up guidelines. The “gun rights” advocates’ preferred answer is that to draw up such guidelines is “impossible”because “lawful gun owner’s” rights will inevitably be infringed. Here’s a clue: just about every other modern, civilized society has such guidelines.

    I definitely think guidelines can be drawn up — and that we should draw upon those from other countries — the issue is (a) ensuring that they are drawn up and (b) they work for practitioners.

    Unfortunately, in other areas, a. and b. don’t always happen.

    For example, the Social Security rules around what constitutes an environmentally created learning issue (i.e. lead paint) are truly horrific to work with — a mass of mumbo jumbo and confusing, fuzzy descriptors. The net result is that it has become very difficult to get children with learning disabilities (most likely caused by the environment) social security benefits.

    Again, I’m *not* saying I disagree with the general idea here. I just hope that the final system is drawn up by practitioners versus legislators.

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