An Open Letter To North Carolina State Senators On The New Mental Health Screening For Handgun Purchases

BY Herschel Smith
7 months, 3 weeks ago

By way of background for my readers, North Carolina has an antiquated system of laws for handgun purchases, based on Jim Crow era thinking, that requires the County LEO to pass judgment on the fitness of an individual to purchase a handgun.  For a concealed handgun permit, I had to submit to not only a background check, but also turn over my medical records to the County Sheriff (as if criminals will care about such nuisances if they intend to commit a crime with a handgun).  But with no fanfare, the NC Legislature slipped a new law past the citizens where a mere purchase of a handgun puts the individual through virtually the same hassle as a concealed handgun permit.  Thus we see reports like the following concerning the ridiculous effects of said law.

The Blaze:

Larry Hyatt, owner of one of the country’s busiest gun stores, has more than a quarter-million dollars worth of guns sitting in his store, just waiting for their prospective owners — and there’s a good reason.

Hyatt’s store is located in Mecklenburg County, North Carolina’s most populous county. The large number of firearms in “purchase queue” stems from a newly created firearms law passed by the North Carolina legislature in December requiring everyone who applies for a gun permit in North Carolina to undergo a mental health background check.

Larry Hyatt, owner of one of the country’s busiest gun stores, has more than a quarter-million dollars worth of guns sitting in his store, just waiting for their prospective owners — and there’s a good reason.

Hyatt’s store is located in Mecklenburg County, North Carolina’s most populous county. The large number of firearms in “purchase queue” stems from a newly created firearms law passed by the North Carolina legislature in December requiring everyone who applies for a gun permit in North Carolina to undergo a mental health background check.

Following the new law’s passage — and combined with December’s terror attack in San Bernardino — the number of gun permit requests in Mecklenburg County began to skyrocket. This put the county’s sheriff in an awkward position. That’s because the new law gave him only 14 days to approve or deny a permit request, despite the fact that it normally takes much longer than two weeks to thoroughly screen the mental health background of a permit applicant.

But according to WCNC-TV, the time constraint hasn’t stopped Mecklenburg County Sheriff Irwin Carmichael from erring on the side of safety and approving permits beyond the 14-day limit — even if it means he’s breaking the new law in order to arm people who are ultimately cleared to have the permits.

“So [the new law] kind of puts us in a dilemma,” he told WCNC. ”Do we go ahead and issue permits and let everyone know in 14 days or wait till we get all of this medical information back? I’m always going to err on the side of safety.”

Carmichael added, “We want to make sure the guns are in the right people’s hands and that’s why we have to have these checks.” According to WCNC, what the sheriff is really trying to say is that his department is breaking the new law in order to keep the public safe.

The Sheriff seems arrogant, perhaps even proud of the fact that he is making the choice to break the law because, in his own words, he wants to “keep the public safe,” as if it’s within the latitude of a law enforcement officer to decide which laws he will follow and which ones he will not.

But is this what happens with mental health checks?  Is that what the Sheriff is doing, and is this what the Legislature intended?  It seems all the rage now, to ensure that mental health screening is part of gun purchase requirements, along with forcing parties in separation or divorce proceedings to relinquish their firearms (to see a sad, depressing testimonial of the abuses of these regulations by multiple men, see this reddit/firearms discussion thread).

First of all, notice that the law is more onerous than previous, with increased regulation, more intrusion and more government interference in the lives of peaceable men and women.  And this was sponsored by a man with Republican assigned to his name in the Senate.  Is it any wonder that there is such upheaval in the current election cycle?  What has the North Carolina Legislature done recently to make gun laws, or any other laws, less intrusive and less malleable to an increase in government power?  Gun permitting, which by the way is still not the regulatory scheme in the majority of states, is a means to increase local government control, put in place an approval system that is susceptible to corruption, and create a revenue stream that didn’t otherwise have to obtain if we had a system more conducive to liberty and God-given rights.

But now see what the new law has done!  It has superimposed yet another regulatory scheme that cannot possibly work, isn’t sustainable, isn’t funded, and leads to County LEOs who don’t care about obeying the law.  This is an awful commentary on stolid, dense and inefficient lawmaking and thinking by the Legislature.  The only option you have now is to supply a revenue stream to fund a gigantic new government program, for the purpose of governing men and women who follow the law rather than targeting those who don’t.  I simply cannot conjure up a more stupid waste of time and resources for the Legislature.

But what of this issue of mental health checks?  Do they accomplish anything?  Do people who would trigger a warning from mental health checks commit acts of violence out of proportion to their percentage representation in the population?

Fortunately, we’ve answered those questions before.  Let’s rehearse those answers.

In a paper published in the American Journal of Public Health, Jonathan M. Metzl and Kenneth T. MacLeish investigate a number of common beliefs about mental illness and gun violence, including the idea that “psychiatric diagnosis can predict gun crime before it happens.” They write that “legislation in a number of states now mandates that psychiatrists assess their patients for the potential to commit violent gun crime.” New York, for instance, “requires mental health professionals to report anyone who ‘is likely to engage in conduct that would result in serious harm to self or others’ to the state’s Division of Criminal Justice Services, which then alerts the local authorities to revoke the person’s firearms license and confiscate his or her weapons.”

However, they argue, asking psychiatrists to judge who’s likely to become violent may be the wrong approach. They cite research showing that most gun violence isn’t committed by people who are determined to have mental illness — and that most people with mental illness don’t commit violence. According to one study, “the risk is exponentially greater that individuals diagnosed with serious mental illness will be assaulted by others, rather than the other way around.”

There’s more:

Random gun violence is a terrifying fact of American life, because of both the violence and the randomness. Terror bred by violence does not really require comment; they are twinned. But terror bred by randomness does, especially when it leads people to accept as true a reasonable story that is false, when a myth functions as an explanation. And that is what is happening with the way we talk about mental illness and random gun violence. Thankfully, a just published report in the Annals of Epidemiology pulls together the facts we need to consider if we really want to adopt evidence-based policies to reduce random gun violence.

The article, “Mental illness and reduction of gun violence and suicide: bringing epidemiologic research to policy,” is a comprehensive, critical survey of the available data (and it is surprisingly accessible and  well-written for an academic treatise). It concludes that “most violent behavior is due to factors other than mental illness.”

[ … ]

Jeffrey W. Swanson, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the Duke University School of Medicine and lead author of the article in Annals of Epidemiology was quoted in the UCLA Newsroom saying ”but even if schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and depression were cured, our society’s problem of violence would diminish by only about 4 percent.”

That is not very much. When people with mental illness do act violently it is typically for the same reasons that people without mental illness act violently.

“We’re not likely to catch very many potentially violent people” with laws like the one in New York, says Barry Rosenfeld, a professor of psychology at Fordham University in The Bronx….

study of experienced psychiatrists at a major urban psychiatric facility found that they were wrong about which patients would become violent about 30 percent of the time.

That’s a much higher error rate than with most medical tests, says Alan Teo, a psychiatrist at the University of Michigan and an author of the study.

One reason even experienced psychiatrists are often wrong is that there are only a few clear signs that a person with a mental illness is likely to act violently, says Steven Hoge, a professor of psychiatry at Columbia University. These include a history of violence and a current threat to commit violence ….

And finally this.

Jeffrey Swanson, a medical sociologist and professor of psychiatry at Duke University, first became interested in the perceived intersection of violence and mental illness while working at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston in the mid-eighties. It was his first job out of graduate school, and he had been asked to estimate how many people in Texas met the criteria for needing mental-health services. As he pored over different data sets, he sensed that there could be some connection between mental health and violence. But he also realized that there was no good statewide data on the connection. “Nobody knew anything about the real connection between violent behavior and psychiatric disorders,” he told me. And so he decided to spend his career in pursuit of that link.

In general, we seem to believe that violent behavior is connected to mental illness. And if the behavior is sensationally violent—as in mass shootings—the perpetrator must certainly have been sick. As recently as 2013, almost forty-six per cent of respondents to a national survey said that people with mental illness were more dangerous than other people. According to two recent Gallup polls, from 2011 and 2013, more people believe that mass shootings result from a failure of the mental-health system than from easy access to guns. Eighty per cent of the population believes that mental illness is at least partially to blame for such incidents.

To see what Dr. Swanson concludes, you can read his conclusions for yourself.  I wouldn’t send you to the source if it didn’t substantiate my claims.  In summary, when it comes to predicting behavior, Psychiatry is mankind’s latest incarnation of the village witchdoctor.  People believe in it, but they don’t know why, and even the mental health professionals have told you that they have no hope of accurately predicting propensity to violent behavior.  It’s simply counterfactual to hold that a mental health screening can prognosticate or foretell acts of violence, an Orwellian tip of the hat to the awful movie Minority Report.  You’re making things up because it feels good to fabricate comfortable lies.

But we persist in the mistaken belief, and at what cost?  As pointed out by one commenter on these pages, “Control freaks love psychiatry, a means of social control with no Due Process protections. It is a system of personal opinion masquerading as science. See, e.g., Boston University Psychology Professor Margaret Hagan’s book, Whores of the Court, to see how arbitrary psychiatric illnesses are. Peter Breggin, Fred Baughman and Thomas Szasz wrote extensively about abuses of psychiatry. Liberals blame guns for violence. Conservatives blame mental illness. Neither have any causal connection to violence.”

It feels neat and tidy to assign someone to be responsible for violence, like a mental health professional, or to blame it on inanimate machines, like guns.  But that just isn’t the way the world works.  When men are moral agents who can choose to commit acts of evil, the most dangerous assumption is the one that informs you that you can legislate control over those individual actions.  When the results of policies that ingratiate the inner city youth to the government and relegate them to fatherless families causes young men to search for leadership and meaning elsewhere, the most ineffective policy is the one that targets the law abiding and peaceable citizen.  And when the criminal can choose to violate the law in spite of your best intentions, the most dangerous place to be is a so-called “gun-free zone” (because we all know there is no such thing as a gun-free zone, don’t we?).

You have created a body of law surrounding handgun permitting that has its roots in bigoted Jim Crow law, that has no positive effect on violence (so says the mental health professionals), and that by nature and intent bypasses due process rights.  It is a means of social control without Due Process protections.

But you can choose to undo all of this, can’t you?

Sent to the following:

  • Fred

    While reading this I kept thinking that if only your intended audience had read the Holy Bible and had a fear for the LORD they would say to themselves “huh, well that pretty much explains it all then” and they would then, quit trying do through human force that which only He can do.

    Please, do let us know how many Form Letters you get back, thanking you for your support. My favorite are the ones wrapped in patriotic flags, slogans, and symbols of freedom from people that hate my liberty. Scum.

  • Ned Weatherby

    Awesomely done, Herschel. What’s really disappointing here is the matter of a Sheriff who is only too pleased to quash individual rights “in the name of the law.” Other county sheriffs – including Richard Mack – fought unconstitutional gun laws. Others have as well.

    I certainly hope the voters remember this, although, as you aptly stated, this whole cloth boogeyman BS about “mental health background checks” has been adopted by alleged pro-rights politicians and gun groups as well as anti-rights groups.

    If one can get people asking the wrong questions, and focusing on incorrect issues, the answers don’t matter, and one has managed to control the narrative in Hegelian style.

    Love to see these politician’s answers.

  • Fred


  • Damocles

    Spot on analysis Herschel.

  • Dubs

    Well done, Herschel. I would add that SSRI drugs seem to be involved in a lot of crime. Check out and for some interesting readings of news articles involving SSRI drugs. Seems that going on or off of them are the most dangerous times for aberrant behavior.

  • Archer

    Excellent article, Herschel!

    I was intrigued by this quoted paragraph [bold emphasis added]: One reason even experienced psychiatrists are often wrong is that there are only a few clear signs that a person with a mental illness is likely to act violently, says Steven Hoge, a professor of psychiatry at Columbia University. These include a history of violence and a current threat to commit violence ….

    Interestingly enough, though they’ll never admit this publicly, those two are the clearest signs that someone without a mental illness is likely to act violently. At best, mental illness contributes to irrational, unpredictable, or “odd” behavior. But not violence.

    Violence in a person’s past and present remain the most accurate predictors of violence in his/her future, mental illness notwithstanding.

    I know, I know: this is my shocked face.

  • Archer

    Indeed, but the drugs — and the chemical imbalances in the brain that going on or off them causes — don’t in themselves cause violence. They cause “unusual” or “unpredictable” behavior.

    True, that could manifest itself as violence, but only in a person already predisposed to violence. A non-violent person (i.e. most people) going on or off SSRIs tends to just act “weird” for a few days while he/she adjusts.

  • SunwolfNC

    You forgot to add that they charge us $20 for the privilege of our health records being examined by 6 institutions to get their sign off. $110 for the privilege to exercise our un-infringable right to bear arms after waiting 115 days (avg)

  • Herschel Smith

    And I haven’t yet received even a single reply to my letter.


    Wow. And I thought California was bad.

  • Ned Weatherby

    Have to give them time to let some sycophantic minion reply with the prototypical form letter…

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You are currently reading "An Open Letter To North Carolina State Senators On The New Mental Health Screening For Handgun Purchases", entry #14887 on The Captain's Journal.

This article is filed under the category(s) Firearms,Guns and was published March 1st, 2016 by Herschel Smith.

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