The Totalitarians Among Us

Herschel Smith · 03 Mar 2014 · 15 Comments

Victor Davis Hanson observes: In short, Obama will always poll around 45 percent. That core support is his lasting legacy. In a mere five years, by the vast expansion of federal spending, by the demonizing rhetoric of his partisan bully pulpit, and by executive orders and bizarre appointments, Obama has so divided the nation that he has created a permanent constituency that will never care as much about what he does as it cares about what he says and represents. For elite rich liberals…… [read more]

ATF Rulemaking On Adjudication As Mentally Defective

BY Herschel Smith
1 week, 5 days ago

Perhaps someone else I regularly read alerted me to this, but if so, I certainly overlooked it.  This one slid under the wire with me.  Comments close at midnight on April 7th, so these comments will have to suffice.  Prince Law Offices filed an objection to the rulemaking, and their filing is worth reading.  They observe that “few in the Firearms Industry wanted to take a stand against this new notice of proposed rulemaking.”  Perhaps so, but I’m not in the “industry.”  And I do indeed take a strong stand against this rulemaking.  Herein are my comments to the ATF.

The ATF is not the appropriate bureau of the executive to make decisions on adjudication on metal health of any sort.  Furthermore, even qualified individuals disagree with the notion that this will ameliorate crime or other nefarious uses of firearms.  Witness the following list of experts.

Dr. J. Michael Bostwick, Mayo Clinic: “We physicians generally do not know enough about firearms to have an informed conversation with our patients, let alone counsel them about gun safety.”  He continues by arguing:

  • Even if every mentally ill person in the country were registered, the system isn’t prepared to handle them — and only about half of the states require registration.
  • Only about 10 percent of mentally ill people are registered — and these are people who have been committed, they’ve come to attention in a way that requires court intervention.
  • Literature says the vast majority of people who do these kinds of shootings are not mentally ill — or it is recognized after the fact.
  • The majority of mentally ill people aren’t dangerous.

Dr. Richard Friedman: ” … there is overwhelming epidemiological evidence that the vast majority of people with psychiatric disorders do not commit violent acts. Only about 4 percent of violence in the United States can be attributed to people with mental illness.

Dr. Barry Rosenfeld: “”We’re not likely to catch very many potentially violent people” with laws like the one in New York.”

Dr. Steven Hoge: “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.”

And National Journal notes the following.

Perhaps most important, although people with serious mental illness have committed a large percentage of high-profile crimes, the mentally ill represent a very small percentage of the perpetrators of violent crime overall. Researchers estimate that if mental illness could be eliminated as a factor in violent crime, the overall rate would be reduced by only 4 percent. That means 96 percent of violent crimes—defined by the FBI as murders, robberies, rapes, and aggravated assaults—are committed by people without any mental-health problems at all. Solutions that focus on reducing crimes by the mentally ill will make only a small dent in the nation’s rate of gun-related murders, ranging from mass killings to shootings that claim a single victim.  It’s not just that the mentally ill represent a minority of the country’s population; it’s also that the overlap between mental illness and violent behavior is poor.

Attempts to restrict firearms ownership for the rightful and God-granted purposes of self defense suffer from lack of legitimacy (since ATF isn’t the right place for such rules to be born) and outrageous prejudice and bigotry, evil features of mankind’s sinful nature that have no place whatsoever in American society.

Since propensity to violence isn’t in any way able to be correlated to mental health issues, and since the mentally ill do not in large measure commit acts of violence at a higher rate than those who are supposedly mentally sound, this rulemaking is unjust and no more than an abortion.  Violence is a function of evil rather than mental soundness, something that an ATF questionnaire or doctor’s examination cannot quantify or repair.

Mental Health And Guns: Mentally Defective Because You Believe In The Second Amendment

BY Herschel Smith
3 weeks, 4 days ago

Remember when I asked this question?

When will you be adjudicated mentally defective because you believe that being armed is the surest way to ameliorate tyranny in America?

Now we know the answer.  Via Uncle, The Washington Post:

[Plaintiffs allege that, as] of February 3, 2011, Plaintiffs possessed FOID cards, owned firearms, and kept their firearms in their home. At some point before February 3, 2011, David expressed “unpopular political views … about his support of Second Amendment rights” to “a locally elected official.” That official, somebody in that official’s office, or one of the individual defendants falsely construed David’s comments “as evidence that [he] had a mental condition that made him dangerous.” On February 3, 2011, [Illinois State Police] Lieutenant [John] Coffman wrote a letter to David revoking his FOID card under § 8(f) of the Act based on the false and unreasonable assertion that David had a “mental condition” within the meaning of that provision.

On February 5, 2011, with Lieutenant Coffman’s approval, Agents Pryor and Summers entered Plaintiffs’ home without a warrant or consent, conducted a search, and seized Plaintiffs’ firearms, which Plaintiffs used for personal protection, hunting, investment, and enjoyment …

Simply because local LEOs wanted to, the Plaintiffs had their weapons confiscated, and the LEOs ignored constitutional protections regarding illegal search and seizure.  The case has to do with residents of Illinois, but it could be anywhere.

Now someone spend the time and expend the effort to explain to me how mental health checks are going to keep guns out of the hands of “dangerous criminals.”  Go ahead.  I’m listening.

Future Health Care In America: The Abyss Of Gun Rights

BY Herschel Smith
3 months, 1 week ago

There is movement on the issue of mental health and gun ownership, but we’ll get to that in a moment.  First in order to set the stage, Michael Hammond writing at The Washington Times has done a good job of explaining the stakes.

The 1968 Gun Control Act bans guns for anyone who is “adjudicated as a mental defective or … committed to a mental institution.” Unfortunately, under 2008 NICS Improvement Act, drafted by Sen. Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat, and its regulations, that “adjudication” can be made by any “other lawful authority.” This means a diagnosis by a single psychiatrist in connection with a government program.

In the case of nearly 175,000 law-abiding veterans, the “lawful authority” has been a Department of Veterans Affairs psychiatrist, who, generally, will take away a veteran’s guns by unilaterally declaring him incompetent and appointing a guardian over his financial affairs. Certainly, the findings can be appealed, but most veterans don’t have the tens of thousands of dollars to hire lawyers and psychiatrists to do so.

Although the problem hasn’t yet been as apparent in other areas, police and firemen on Social Security disability for post-traumatic stress disorder, Medicare seniors with Alzheimer’s, and people who as children were diagnosed under the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act program with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder will ultimately face the same fate. Even a subsidized Obamacare policy might now make Americans participants in a federal program.

In fact, that process of expanding gun bans has now begun:

One gun owner in a virulently anti-gun state was placed on the gun-ban blacklist because many years ago, police, without the approval of any court, put him in a mental facility overnight. The facility found nothing wrong with him, but that didn’t stop his state from recently turning him in to the FBI for a lifetime gun ban.

In another case, a gun owner in an anti-gun state lost his guns because of a prescription for a psychiatric drug.

Bob Unruh explains how this happens with veterans.

The problem arises when the agency wants to appoint a fiduciary – someone to advise a disabled veteran or one receiving certain government benefits – to help with the management of the benefits.

The government then routinely notifies the FBI’s NICS system, a federally maintained list of those whose competency has been challenged. That means they no longer can purchase a gun or even keep the one they may have.

Michael Connelly, executive director of the USJF, told WND the initial lawsuit is to compel the VA to respond to two requests under the Freedom of Information Act.

“The information requested included Veterans Benefits Administration rules, regulations and criteria for making ‘determinations of incompetency due to a physical or mental condition of a benefit recipient,’” the legal team explained.

“The USJF has received numerous complaints from military veterans around the country who are being declared incompetent to handle their own financial affairs and then told that they can no longer purchase or own firearms or ammunition,” said Connelly. “This determination is being made without due process protections for the veterans and the basis for the incompetency ruling is often arbitrary and without a factual or legal basis.”

Just a month ago, WND columnist Jeff Knox warning about Obama’s newly announced strategy.

And just a few days ago Mike Vanderboegh provided strong evidence that this is happening on a wide scale.  Returning to Bob’s article, he asks the important questions.  “As with most things, the devil is in the details. What is mental illness? Who is mentally ill? How mentally ill must one be to warrant revocation of a fundamental human right? Who makes that determination? Who is ‘normal,’ and how ‘normal’ do they have to be to own guns?”

Now to what David Codrea reported just today about the movement afoot to make the problem even more sweeping in scope.

In a chat session this month with the liberal magazine Texas Monthly, Cornyn revealed he and Lindsay Graham will introduce a bill strengthening the NICS federal gun owner registration database and place more Americans on lifetime gun ban lists.

There are no doubt good people who believe that such a thing is good for public safety.  Cornyn and Graham aren’t among that crowd.  They know better and would sell the souls of their own mothers if it would be beneficial to their careers.  It isn’t to them that I speak.  Nothing can change them, and so the only remedy for us is to change their jobs.

We’ve dealt with this before, this notion that the mental health profession is like any other, that it can pull the right levers, punch the right buttons, and administer the right drugs to fix mankind.  But listen to them in their own words.

Dr. J. Michael Bostwick, Mayo Clinic: “We physicians generally do not know enough about firearms to have an informed conversation with our patients, let alone counsel them about gun safety.”  He continues by arguing:

  • Even if every mentally ill person in the country were registered, the system isn’t prepared to handle them — and only about half of the states require registration.
  • Only about 10 percent of mentally ill people are registered — and these are people who have been committed, they’ve come to attention in a way that requires court intervention.
  • Literature says the vast majority of people who do these kinds of shootings are not mentally ill — or it is recognized after the fact.
  • The majority of mentally ill people aren’t dangerous.

Dr. Richard Friedman: ” … there is overwhelming epidemiological evidence that the vast majority of people with psychiatric disorders do not commit violent acts. Only about 4 percent of violence in the United States can be attributed to people with mental illness.

Dr. Barry Rosenfeld: “”We’re not likely to catch very many potentially violent people” with laws like the one in New York.”

Dr. Steven Hoge: “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.”

And National Journal notes the following.

Perhaps most important, although people with serious mental illness have committed a large percentage of high-profile crimes, the mentally ill represent a very small percentage of the perpetrators of violent crime overall. Researchers estimate that if mental illness could be eliminated as a factor in violent crime, the overall rate would be reduced by only 4 percent. That means 96 percent of violent crimes—defined by the FBI as murders, robberies, rapes, and aggravated assaults—are committed by people without any mental-health problems at all. Solutions that focus on reducing crimes by the mentally ill will make only a small dent in the nation’s rate of gun-related murders, ranging from mass killings to shootings that claim a single victim.  It’s not just that the mentally ill represent a minority of the country’s population; it’s also that the overlap between mental illness and violent behavior is poor.

I won’t continue since we’ve covered this in detail before.  To my readers who believe that this has anything to do with public safety, you need to be dissuaded from such foolishness.  This has nothing to do with the decreased rate of forcible admissions to mental health facilities, and nothing to do with an increase in mental health problems, and nothing to do with the availability of guns.  And it has nothing to do with turning out patients from the asylums, no matter what you’ve been told.

Crime is a moral choice.  I know this is uncomfortable for some of my readers, because it forces you to think about things like value judgments and the roots of morality.  It all has such a deontological ring to it, and it suggests that mankind may not just be the product of primordial slime – that there is someone to whom we must answer.

But I don’t care one iota about your discomfort.  The mental health profession simply cannot sustain the weight of burden you wish to place on it.  It cannot tell you who will do what, or give enough medications to fix what ails mankind.  It cannot control individuals who are moral agents making their own choices.

And those who would rule us know this too.  They know that the mental health profession cannot function in this role, and yet the sweep of the proposed rules keeps increasing, the dragnet keeps expanding, and the Senators keep going along to get along.  So what does this tell you about why they want to expand the mental health dragnet?  When will you be adjudicated mentally defective because you believe that being armed is the surest way to ameliorate tyranny in America?

White House Announces Executive Action On Guns

BY Herschel Smith
3 months, 2 weeks ago

NBC:

The Obama administration is proposing two more executive actions that it says will help prevent individuals who are prohibited from having a gun for mental health reasons from obtaining a firearm.

The Department of Justice, arguing that current federal law contains terminology about mental health issues that is too vague,  proposed a regulation that would clarify who is ineligible to possess a firearm for specific situations related to mental health, like commitment to a mental institution. “In addition to providing general guidance on federal law, these clarifications will help states determine what information should be made accessible to the federal background check system, which will, in turn, strengthen the system’s reliability and effectiveness,” the administration said in a fact sheet distributed to reporters.

The second executive action, proposed by the Department of Health and Human Services, would allow some medical organizations more leeway to report “limited information necessary to help keep guns out of potentially dangerous hands” to the federal background check system. “The proposed rule will not change the fact that seeking help for mental health problems or getting treatment does not make someone legally prohibited from having a firearm,” the White House added.

Because, you know, mental health professionals can use their skills so well as a predictor of propensity to violence, oh, er, uh, because mass shootings are a function of mentally unstable people who just suddenly snap, oh, er, well, whatever.  Everybody just shut up.  At least they’re doing something about something.  And that’s what we all want our government to do, right?  Something?

Guns And The Mentally Ill: A Professional Assessment

BY Herschel Smith
6 months ago

Science Daily:

A string of public mass shootings during the past decade-plus have rocked America leaving policymakers and mental health experts alike fishing for solutions to prevent these heinous crimes. A Mayo Clinic physician, however, argues that at least one proposal won’t stop the public massacres: restricting gun access to the mentally ill. J. Michael Bostwick, M.D., a Mayo Clinic psychiatrist and author of the editorial published online in Mayo Clinic Proceedings today, argues several points including that mass shootings are carefully planned — often spanning weeks or months. There is plenty of time for a meticulous planner and determined killer to get a gun somewhere in that time, he argues.

Dr. Bostwick’s editorial is a commentary on an essay in the same issue of Proceedings titled “Guns, Schools, and Mental Illness: Potential Concerns for Physicians and Mental Health Professionals.” The authors focus on recent mass shootings and argue that these actions were not and could not have been prevented by more restrictive gun legislation. They further contend that a diagnosis of mental illness does not justify stripping Second Amendment rights from all who carry such a diagnosis, most of whom will never commit violent acts toward others.

Before reading the essay Dr. Bostwick — who is generally in favor of gun control — expected to disagree with its contents. Instead, he agreed.

“We physicians generally do not know enough about firearms to have an informed conversation with our patients, let alone counsel them about gun safety,” says Dr. Bostwick. “We also tend to ignore the reality that as long as the Second Amendment is the law of the land, the right to bear arms and therefore personal gun ownership, whether of long guns for hunting or handguns for personal protection, will be an integral part of the American scene.”

A few points Dr. Bostwick argues:

  • Even if every mentally ill person in the country were registered, the system isn’t prepared to handle them — and only about half of the states require registration.
  • Only about 10 percent of mentally ill people are registered — and these are people who have been committed, they’ve come to attention in a way that requires court intervention
  • Literature says the vast majority of people who do these kinds of shootings are not mentally ill — or it is recognized after the fact
  • The majority of mentally ill people aren’t dangerous
  • Mentally ill people in a country with gun rights, still have rights.

So let’s see.  Mental illness isn’t a very good predictor of propensity to violence, especially mass violence.  Even if it were, doctors cannot diagnose it well enough to intrude on the rights of others.  Their record is comparatively poor.  Mental illness isn’t the hallmark of said actions – rather, it is pre-meditation and planning.

This seems rather important.  Someone should have talked about this before.  No, really.  I mean it.  I really mean it.

Mental Health Checks Cannot Sustain The Burden Of Gun Violence

BY Herschel Smith
1 year, 2 months ago

Part I: Mental Health Checks Are Not The Answer To Gun Violence

Part II: Guns And Crazy Men

The Capital Times notes that Ann Althouse weighed in on the issue of gun violence and mental health checks.  Her blog “lights up” on this issue, according to the report.  In fact Ann does have a smart and whimsical style of writing, interspersed with humor, and so one must usually read her thoughts more than one time in order to make sure that you’re not misinterpreting her prose.

But I think I’ve got what she says this time around, and I have some difficulty with her views.

Bonavia implies that we ought to make policy based on the percentages. But then she says, make a pervasive law that applies to everyone, without mentioning the very small percentage of perpetrators of gun violence within the truly vast category of Americans who buy guns. And by the way, the category “gun violence” lumps things together. Gun control has become a hot issue because of a few massacres. If you make a category out of the set of incidents that has inflamed present-day opinion, people suffering from mental illness seem to be 100% of the perpetrators! You only get your very small percentage if you throw in other types of incidents, such as gangsters wiping each other out. Wake me up when 90% of Americans want to do something about that. And explain to me how background checks have any curative power over that problem.

The appeal to statistics and reason falls flat when you shape it to suit the policy you already want.

“Only 4 to 5 percent of violent crimes are committed by people with mental illness,” Dilip Jeste, the president of the [American Psychiatric Association], says in a statement. “About one quarter of all Americans have a mental disorder in any given year, and only a very small percentage of them will ever commit violent crimes.”See what I mean? Questions for Dr. Jeste: 1. What percentage of school shootings are committed by persons with mental illness? 2. If we cut the category “violent crimes” down to massacre-type shootings where the motive isn’t robbery and the victim isn’t someone with whom the shooter has a personal dispute, what percentage of those crimes are committed by persons with mental illness? 3. If we break the category “mental disorder” into subparts, so that depression and schizophrenia aren’t lumped together, is there any category within which you cannot say that only very small percentage will ever commit violent crimes? 4. In your effort to shield the mentally ill from unnecessary stigma, are you giving cover to a set of persons who could and should be identified as dangerous?

Ann might be affirming the consequent, where given some mental malady, since some shooter (or several shooters) commit[s] a mass killing, therefore killings will be committed only by those with the identified mental malady.  But this error in propositional logic is too fundamental and I don’t think Ann is arguing in this way.

More likely, Ann is arguing (or has argued) in a probabilistic manner herself, that the preponderance of mass shootings have been committed by those with some identified mental malady.  Therefore, prohibiting people with that specific malady from owning weapons will decrease the number of mass shootings.

If I have interpreted Ann correctly, take careful note of the unstated presuppositions in her argument.  First, she is assuming that mental health professionals can correctly identify that malady, and second, she is assuming that only persons with that specific malady (or perhaps one or two others) will commit mass shootings.

Neither appears to bear the weight of scrutiny.  The mental health professionals I cite in the earlier reports on mental health checks and gun ownership state categorically that they cannot identify illness in many circumstances.  They also state rather categorically that violence of all kinds – mass shootings or not – are not a function of specific mental illnesses.

I usually roll my eyes at the lack of scholarship and honesty when I read Huffington Post.  But today there was refreshing honesty from yet another mental health professional concerning what his own profession cannot accomplish.

As we debate the steps to reducing gun violence in the society a couple points need to be understood: 1. The link between violent crime and mental illness is weak, and 2. Mental health professionals are poor at predicting anyone’s propensity for any specific behavior, including homicide.

Although it is mass shootings, particularly the massacre of school children in Newtown, that capture our attention and have accelerated the current discussion, Americans for the most part kill each other with guns in ones and twos. Of the total number of gun deaths in this country, around 30,000 a year, the majority are not the result of mental illness, but of ordinary human emotions like anger, hate, greed, and despair. In fact, about half of all shootings are suicides.

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The only real predictor of future violence in anyone turns out to be a past history of violent behavior. Absent this, professionals are little better than the average citizen at identifying those likely to harm others. Many people report violent fantasies (remember your reaction to the last person to cut you off in traffic); few act on them.

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As we confront the reality of these systemic deficits, however, we ought not to do so under the illusion that we are responding to the problem of gun violence. These are separate and largely unrelated issues, both of which deserve our immediate attention and informed response.

It is true that mental health checks can be abused and thus rights denied for incorrect reasons, and it is true that mental health professionals often disagree, and it is true that given a reason to deny rights, a totalitarian state will usually find a way to use it for totalitarian purposes.  All of these things concern me and in fact militate against such checks being a necessary prerequisite for gun ownership, in my opinion (See earlier discussions of the checks we must go through in my own county to obtain a concealed handgun permit, which I do have, and also the “fitness for duty” program and managerial observation we must go through having unescorted access to nuclear power plants – both checks being pretty much worthless in my view, and yet subject to unconstitutional denial of rights).

But the objection raised by the mental health professionals goes beyond my own objections.  In every case, they are saying that there is no identity between those who commit violent crime and any specific mental malady, and beyond that, they are little better than the average person at identifying propensity to violence anyway.

Laws only imperfectly supply incentive for certain behavior and disincentive for the opposite.  But what laws cannot do is ensure that certain behavior does not obtain.  That is a burden too far for legislation and ethics.  These issues ensconce squarely in the domain of morality, and laws do not change that.  Evil cannot be legislated (or medicated) away, and the best amelioration of risk associated with gun violence is to be prepared for self defense (including elimination of gun free zones).

Similarly, mental health professionals have weighed in telling us that their profession cannot possibly hope to shoulder the burden we wish to place on it.  It’s more than simply it is subject to abuse, which it is, or that the doctor-patient relationship is invaded, which it is.  It is that the “science” – if it can be called that at all, is simply incapable of sustaining the burden of gun violence, or any other form of violence, for that matter.  They cannot prevent it, regardless how much we may wish them to.

Guns And Crazy Men

BY Herschel Smith
1 year, 2 months ago

David Codrea:

Because that’s true, and it is, you know, looking at quick fix kneejerk ‘solutions’ such as changing state and federal information loop protocols on recorded mental health incidents may not produce any appreciable public safety improvements, and may in fact, endanger not only rights, but people disabled by ‘law’ who have been denied full due process.

Um, yes.  Of course a system like this is highly vulnerable to abuse and negligence.  It’s the government.  My God.  When is the last time you witnessed a government program work the way it should?  Besides, mental health professionals will tell you that their science isn’t as accurate as you think it is and isn’t amenable to such neat categories, that they cannot really predict with any confidence who will become violent, that their science won’t sustain such a burden, that such reporting will intefere with the doctor-patient relationship, and that they don’t want that kind of legal and regulatory pressure on their profession.  They have already told you so.  It’s like asking your Volkswagen Beetle to hit the curves at Daytona International Speedway and race with the big boys.  Man is too complex, and “doctors” don’t know as much about his psyche as this system would demand.  Because, you know, it’s his psyche … his soul … his spirit.  It’s not his big toe.

Finish reading Codrea’s piece at Examiner.  Mental health checks are not the answer to gun violence.  Move on to the real solutions, like abolishing gun free zones as an intrusion on our God-given right of self defense.

Mental Health Checks Are Not The Answer To Gun Violence

BY Herschel Smith
1 year, 2 months ago

The current focus by the politicians in their quest for social and human factors solutions to gun violence appears to be two-fold.  First, there is a call for universal background checks.  Even the NRA has indicated potential approval of this approach (while there is still vacillation and equivocation within the ranks of the NRA on this issue).  While this is tempting, it won’t solve any problems, and instead it will lead to a national gun registry.

But if there is vacillation on the issue of universal background checks, there appears to be growing consistency in the call for more intrusive and comprehensive mental health checks for firearms ownership.  Progressive and conservative alike, from politician to random interviewee on the street, casting aspersions on mentally troubled people and pointing to mental health screenings as the problem and solution, respectively, is the one area of agreement.

Walter Russell Mead weighs in in the affirmative on this problem – solution coupling:

Love it or loathe it, legislative gun control is unlikely to have much impact on violence American style. But there is another door to progress: taking care of America’s mentally ill. The good people at Mother Jones recently compiled a study, revealing that of the 62 mass shootings since 1982, 38 were carried out by a person suffering from mental illness (mostly men). Most had displayed signs of paranoia, depression, and other issues with mental health well before reaching for a weapon.

While most of the gun violence in America is committed by the clinically sane, the most horrific massacres are often the work of deranged people whose problems had come to the attention of family, neighbors or work associates.

I have shared before that I have a concealed handgun permit in my county, and in order to get permitted like this, one of the requirements is to sign over authority to examine your medical records to the county Sheriff.  Any admissions to one of five or six regional hospitals for mental health or substance abuse issues would have been reason to have denied my permit.  But I have often wondered, what if I had a recorded admission for some matter in one of the above two categories?  What would that have proven?  Little to nothing, as we will see.

What about the logical contraposition?  I am in a fitness for duty program because I have unescorted access to nuclear power plants.  Does that make me mentally stable?  How about law enforcement officers, since they are in a similar kind of program?  Anecdotal cases demonstrate problems.

Reports of Metro Police Lt. Hans Walters underscore the mental health component of the current gun control debate. Walters shot and killed his wife, a former police officer, and his son and then set fire to their Boulder City home before taking his own life.

Most would agree police departments conduct exhaustive background checks, screening tests, training and safety procedures before authorizing officers to carry and deploy a number of firearms. Yet a former colleague comments to the Las Vegas Review-Journal that Walters “didn’t seem out of the ordinary at all,” adding that “Cops are pretty intuitive. They can tell when something’s wrong with someone. He seemed totally fine.”

Beyond the anecdotal level, there are problems with diagnosis and with the very nature of psychology.  One clinician weighs in this way.

Clinicians treating patients hear their fears, anger, sadness, fantasies and hopes, in a protected space of privacy and confidentiality, which is guaranteed by federal and state laws. Mental health professionals are legally obligated to break this confidentiality when a patient “threatens violence to self or others.” But clinicians rarely report unless the threat is immediate, clear and overt.

Mental health professionals understand that, despite our intimate knowledge of the thoughts of our patients, we are not very good at predicting what people will do. Our knowledge is always incomplete and conditional, and we do not have the methods to objectively predict future behavior. Tendencies, yes; specific actions, no. To think that we can read a person’s brain the way a scanner in airport security is used to detect weapons is a gross misunderstanding of psychological science, and very far from the nuanced but uncertain grasp clinicians have on patients’ state of mind.

What about diagnoses?

If mental health professionals were required to report severe mental illness (such as paranoid schizophrenia) to state authorities, it would have an immediate chilling effect on the willingness of people to disclose sensitive information, and would discourage many people from seeking treatment. What about depression, bipolar disorder, substance abuse or post-traumatic stress disorder, along with other types of mental illness that have some link to self-harm and impulsive action? The scope of disclosure that the government could legally compel might end up very wide, without any real gain in predictive accuracy.

Diagnosis is an inexact and constantly evolving effort, and it is contentious within the profession. To use a diagnosis as the basis of reporting the possibility of violence to the authorities would make the effort of accurate evaluation much more fraught. And what of the families and friends of the mentally ill? Should their weapons purchases be restricted as well? A little reflection shows how unworkable in practice any screening by diagnosis would be.

And more clinicians weigh in similarly:

“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….

The next problem is that even if the science was capable of sustaining the load that we want to place it under, it still wouldn’t have the desired effect:

Perhaps most important, although people with serious mental illness have committed a large percentage of high-profile crimes, the mentally ill represent a very small percentage of the perpetrators of violent crime overall. Researchers estimate that if mental illness could be eliminated as a factor in violent crime, the overall rate would be reduced by only 4 percent. That means 96 percent of violent crimes—defined by the FBI as murders, robberies, rapes, and aggravated assaults—are committed by people without any mental-health problems at all. Solutions that focus on reducing crimes by the mentally ill will make only a small dent in the nation’s rate of gun-related murders, ranging from mass killings to shootings that claim a single victim.  It’s not just that the mentally ill represent a minority of the country’s population; it’s also that the overlap between mental illness and violent behavior is poor.

Finally, it isn’t just anecdotal evidence that calls into question the whole notion that mental health professionals can bear the weight of societal violence, or even the warnings of mental health professionals themselves.  Evidence doesn’t substantiate the current emphasis on mental health as the answer.

President Obama has called for stricter federal gun laws to combat recent shooting rampages, but a review of recent state laws by The Washington Times shows no discernible correlation between stricter rules and lower gun-crime rates in the states.

States that ranked high in terms of making records available to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System also tended to have tighter gun laws — but their gun-crime rates ranged widely. The same was true for states that ranked poorly on disclosure and were deemed to have much less stringent gun-possession laws.

For example, New York, even before it approved the strictest gun-control measures in the country last week, was ranked fourth among the states in strength of gun laws by the Brady Campaign to End Gun Violence, but was also in the top 10 in firearm homicide rates in 2011, according to the FBI.

Meanwhile, North Dakota was near the bottom in its firearm homicide, firearm robbery and firearm assault rates, but also had some of the loosest gun laws and worst compliance with turning over mental health records to the background check system.

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The Times analysis looked at the Brady Campaign’s rankings for strength of each state’s gun laws and at Mayors Against Illegal Guns’ rankings for how states perform in disclosing mental health data to the background check system. That information was then matched against the FBI’s 2011 gun-crime rankings for homicides, robberies and assaults.

The results showed no correlation among the strength of laws and disclosure and the crime rates.

For example, Maryland and New Jersey — both of them populous states with large metropolitan areas — have tight gun laws but poor mental health disclosure. But New Jersey’s gun-crime rate was in the middle of the pack, while Maryland ranked sixth-highest in homicides involving guns and second-highest in robberies with guns.

Delaware and Virginia, which both ranked high in mental health disclosure and ranked 18th and 19th in the Brady tally of tough gun laws, also had divergent crime rates.

Delaware ranked among the top 10 in number of gun robberies and gun assaults, while Virginia was in the middle of the pack on its measures.

My own view is somewhat more pedestrian and pragmatic.  New programs to empower the government rarely avoid abuse, and man’s evil propensities always tend towards totalitarianism and excessive control.  The innocent who get swept up in the mental health screenings and refused means of self defense will be considered the price to pay for government control.  With the right administration, simply wanting means of self defense will be justifiable cause for denying such.

With so little good that can come from this emphasis, coupled with such a large chance for abuse, mental health isn’t the answer that the politicians tout it to be.  As I have previously noted, the common element in the high profile gun violence cases (theater, schools, churches and malls) is that they’re all gun free zones.  Glenn Reynolds points out that this causes a false sense of security.  “Policies making areas “gun free” provide a sense of safety to those who engage in magical thinking, but in practice, of course, killers aren’t stopped by gun-free zones. As always, it’s the honest people — the very ones you want to be armed — who tend to obey the law.”

This is, as it were, the low hanging fruit.  Tackle the easy things and leave the questionable ones behind.

Prior Featured:

What To Expect On Gun Control In The Coming Months

The War To Disarm America

Christians, The Second Amendment And The Duty Of Self Defense

Do We Have A Constitutional Right To Own An AR?

U.N. Arms Treaty: Dreams Of International Gun Control


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