Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Guns and the Mentally Ill

On Facebook, I'm a fan of NY Times Reporter Nicholas D. Kristof

Mr. Kristof's status reads today:

Just in case Pres. Obama visits my FB page, what should we suggest for his State of the Union speech? My hope is that he calls for banning oversize ammo magazines, like the 33-round one used in Tucson. Even Cheney favors a ban on them. And gun serial numbers that are harder to scratch out. And tighter restrictions on the mentally ill obtaining weapons. Your thoughts? Other suggestions for the President?
I'm not an NRA member (this is my disclaimer here) and I've never had much use for guns. But I had thoughts about the issue of "tighter restrictions on the mentally ill obtaining weapons."
I wondered what that meant and how one defines "the mentally ill." Oh, and my second disclaimer here is that I don't know how current regulations work in determining who is mentally ill with regards to purchasing a weapon. I've never reported to any central source any information about who I'm treating so they can't buy guns and no one has ever asked me to sign off on a gun permit. I'm not sure how it's determined that someone has a mental illness and shouldn't own a gun.

It doesn't take very much to get yourself into the range of being 'mentally ill.' Knock-on-door community studies, known as the ECA studies-- meaning Epidimeologic Catchment Area-- show that over half of all people have an episode of mental illness at some point. This includes phobias and anxiety disorders. NAMI tells us that one in five people have a serious mental illness.

Some of the people who commit crimes with legal guns haven't sought treatment. If you haven't gotten a diagnosis, how can you be designated mentally ill for gun ownership? Does gun ownership get designated by diagnosis? Certainly, owning a gun is not a great idea for a person with brittle bipolar disorder who gets violent and impulsive. But we all know that the diagnosis of 'bipolar' disorder has become a bit loose and over-inclusive. An angsty teenager sees a psychiatrist and is diagnosed with bipolar disorder. If he does well later, should he be forbidden from buying a gun at the age of 40? I believe one standard is a psychiatric hospitalization for over 30 days, but I'm not certain how--or if-- that's reported.

I suppose we worry about the Big Brother aspect here. Maybe instead of "mental illness" the standard should be that if college student is expelled, or an employee is fired, for certain behaviors then they are reported to a 'no-guns' data bank. Then you'd capture violent and threatening people who have not sought treatment but may well be dangerous. Oh, I'm just mouthing off here about something I admit that I know little about. But I hate finding one more thing to stigmatize mental illness over in a way that is not likely to effectively decrease gun violence.

Have a happy Facebook day, Mr. Kristof.

Any thoughts?


moviedoc said...


Psychological Testing and Firearm Permits

Guns and Psychiatry

Anonymous said...

Can't say whether the people who hold up gas stations or the people who shoot lovers in a fit of jealous rage or the gang members who gun one another down are all mentally ill.

Then there are the people who have a 'serious mental illness" who have been hospitalized at points throughout their lives, who also teach your kids, tend your broken leg, dare I say it, drive the local bus you take to work each day. They are invisible when they are well, which for many is most of the time. They take their medications that keep them stable. There is always the risk they could go off their meds and there is always the risk of a breakthrough episode even if they stay on the meds. Life is full of risk. We tend to accept that except when it comes to the "mentally ill". People go to bars and pick up guys or girls and take them home and into their beds.People are into extreme sports and some of them get killed in avalanches. I sincerely hope that the next time there is an avalanche and someone is killed no one will find a way to blame a person with mental illness. We need some sort of ratio or scale of relative illness to wellness. Yes I have a mental illness but I am very well, thank you.
In case anyone cares, I don't own a gun and I do not want one.

Noni Mausa said...

It seems like a no-brainer to prohibit mentally ill people from having guns, but like you say, how do you know? We had a nasty murder up here in Canada last year by an untreated paranoid schizophrenic with a machete, who had never sought treatment "because of the stigma." Before the incident, who would decide if the fellow was ill or not?

Even if people's mental status was a matter of record, it would be casting a pretty wide net. If only one in a thousand people of a specific class act violently, should the whole thousand be effected? By that standard, young male humans should all be prohibited from [insert restriction here] since the vast majority of violent offenders are young males.

So, how to prevent gun violence? Let's face it, guns are dangerous in anyone's hands. The mental illness factor is a red herring; perfectly ordinary people can hurt themselves and others by accident or by impulse.

If we want to discuss madness, let's apply it not to fallible humans, but to a frame of mind that says the danger of one man with a gun can be reduced by giving everyone guns. In a crowd where one guy is throwing knives, more knives in the air don't make anyone safer.

Anonymous said...

If a person wants to get a gun they'll be able to get a gun, database or not. I live in Texas. Almost everyone I know has a gun, so good luck with that. Putting "the mentally ill," as we're so fondly called, in a database is just one more way to make us second class citizens. I have nothing in common with a mass murderer, and I resent it when people want to lump us all together and act is if we're all just a hair trigger away from committing violence against others.

Maybe we should just put all men in a database because they're statistically more likely to do this than women.

Aqua said...

In Canada, if you want to get a gun, you need two people who have known you for at least 3 years to sign and agree to the following on the application:

"I declare that I have known the applicant for three (3) years or more. I have read the information supplied by the applicant on this application.
To the best of my knowledge and belief, I find it to be accurate and I know of no reason why, in the interest of safety of the applicant or any other
person, the applicant should not be given a licence to possess and acquire firearms"

On top of that you need the signature of your current partner/spouse saying they know no reason why you should not have a firearm, AND the signature of your previous partner stating the same thing.

Personally, I think all these precautions are good. When I have been feeling suicidal I looked into getting a gun, but there is no way in hell my partner or anyone I knew would have signed those forms. I suppose I could have found one illegally, but I was so depressed it all seemed to difficult. Probably saved my life.

Anonymous said...

I have been hospitalized and had to fight a civil commitment procedure and thereby inadvertently had a public record created. The info is probably sealed to the public, but I'm sure I'm in some database, so if I tried to purchase a gun, I'd likely be denied.

I don't intend to ever buy a gun, but I do feel stigmatized and just a bit as though my civil rights are being taken away when the media and pundits weigh in on creating some kind of Jared Loughner Law on gun control. Anyone being denied a gun by such a law should have a right to appeals and due process.

Anonymous said...

Aqua, I understand the intent behind the law you mentioned. But, I don't believe people who want to murder people care about following the laws to legally obtain a firearm. Take Columbine, for example, those guys didn't obtain weapons legally but they got them anyway. It's not going to prevent it when someone is that intent on destroying other people.

So, yeah, it might deter someone from purchasing a weapon who cares about following laws, but if they care enough to follow that law then they probably aren't going to hurt people. It's not going to deter someone who really wants a weapon, especially in the U.S. where they are already everywhere.

Anonymous said...

Well when I was in my second year in collage my roommate from freshman year was murdered. She was killed by someone she knew in her apartment in the middle of the night. I moved into studio apartment a block away 2 months later.

For the first time in my life I wanted a gun. But I had a history of mental illness and could not get one.

It was probably just as well. The neighborhood was fine. No one else was killed there while I lived there. I really didn't need a gun. But history of depression or not my reasons for wanting a gun were legitimate and not being able to get one said something to me.

Anonymous said...

Yep, i could never buy a gun...doesn't matter, we already have a .45 should i come to need to use it...on myself, of course.

Anonymous said...

I live in south australia and here it is manadatory for health workers [doctors, nurses etc] to report clients with a mental illness who have a firearm or are thinking of getting one and who may be a risk to themselves and/or others. The coroner has interpreted this so rigidly that we now have to report anyone with a mental illness who 'potentially' might be a risk with a firearm. So now anyone who vaguely threatens anyone with or without a weapon has a firearms notification made to 'cover us'. Luckily australia has much less guns available than in the USA

Anonymous said...

The last time I was hospitalized was five years ago. They told me that I could not own a firearm for five years. It is now five years later, I don't need medication, and I just found out that because I was put on a 14 day hold, federal law will not let me have one for life. It is not fair. No one told me about the consequeces. I don't think that my rights should be taken away that easily. I just suffer from severe depression and some other non violent issues. I would never shoot myself. It is too messy and quick. I would rather hang myself or do suicide by cop. I do have fantasies about shooting my psychiatrist in the head because he insists on giving me an extreme diagnosis that is totally wrong and I won't take his meds. But those are only fantasies. I was put in the hospital becase I hit my head gently on a wall. The cops came and put me on a 51/50. While I was in the hospital I got mad that I was there and so I bit a mole off of my arm which got into an artery and I bleed quite a bit. I was not trying to kill myself. I was trying to get back at them. They strapped me down and gave me a shot followed by a 14 day hold. When I woke up two days later I managed to escape the facility but the cops found me and took me back. It was rediculous. Now I am labled as seriously mentally ill,a threat to society and I can't get a handgun. It just makes me want one more. Also if I wanted to kill someone I wouldn't need a gun. I could use a knife. duh.

Anonymous said...

I am a female that has bipolar disorder.
I was hospitalized against my will for 3 and a half weeks following an acute manic episode in November of last year.
My parents lied to the police, and said I was suicidal in order to commit me into the hospital against my will.

I have also been arrested and charged for assaulting a police officer, and have been put in the drunk tank for a drunken fight with a family member.

Both of these arrests we're in my youth, close to five years ago with no weapons.

I completed my probation in regards to the charges that were laid against me with the assault and since have lead a pretty tame life.

I want my non-restricted firearms license. I have a boyfriend that hunts, and I really enjoy social activities involving shooting. Skeet shooting, archery, etc.

I took my Firearms safety course yesterday and I am now worried to send in my application.

I think that gun laws are RIDICULOUS! I have access to firearms as it and have no intention on ever holding a gun at myself, or anyone else. I hugely value life.

Criminals will obtain firearms whether or not they are legally entitled to carry them, and to be honest, I wouldn't go through the trouble of obtaining my license if I was just going to off myself.

Keeping the "mentally ill" from partaking in owning and using guns is ridiculous and I honestly think the whole act of gun laws and registry should be burned.

Anonymous said...

Every time someone who was once diagnosed (labeled) 'mentally ill' kills, it's seen as a reason to keep the 'mentally ill' from getting a firearms license. When a 'mentally ill' person doesn't kill, it has no effect on the issue. When a person that's never been diagnosed as 'mentally ill' by a pseudo-scientist kills, it likewise has no effect on the rationale.

Do people that have been diagnosed (labeled) 'mentally ill' kill at a greater rate than people that have never been declared 'mentally ill'?

Was Dr. Szasz right? Is mental illness a myth? Is behavior or misbehavior a disease?

Have psychiatrists succeeded in finding the etiology of mental illness?

Have they found a chemical imbalance in the brain -- or a lesion, fever, blood test result, x-ray or something else that's objective or physical?

No. These pseudo-scientists are filling up their beds with diagnoses based on nothing more than a brief conversation of any length, so they can make money.

Do you know how 'mental illnesses' get added to and taken out of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders? Road rage is now a mental disorder, "intermittent explosive disorder," affecting up to 16 million Americans. It's not a malfunction of the human body!

Google Drapetomania and hysteria? Too obviously stupid?

Yeah, I get it. We're all crazy.

Good grief!

Could homosexuals own guns when psychiatrists deemed homosexuality a 'mental illness'?

Anonymous said...

I asked, "Do people that have been diagnosed (labeled) 'mentally ill' kill at a greater rate than people that have never been declared 'mentally ill'?"

Surprisingly, I bumped into an indication in Wikipedia:

"Henry J. Steadman, Ph.D., and his colleagues at Policy Research Associates found that, overall, formal mental patients did not have a higher rate of violence than the control group of people who were not formal mental patients." (Hockenbury and Hockenbury, 2004)

Sometimes I think that psychiatrists know -- on some level -- that if they don't diagnose a certain number of people as 'mentally ill,' they won't be able to keep their 'business' going.

But since this farce is used in deprivation of freedom or rights, or used in involuntary detention, further consideration is necessary.

This consideration has not taken place, probably due to the lack of power of formal mental patients, and their unsurprising lack of interest in being in the public spotlight -- due to the stigmatization, or risk of re-incarceration and forced druggings.

Anonymous said...

Another for the thatsoundsgood crowd:

"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." -- RICHARD A. FRIEDMAN, M.D., "In Gun Debate, a Misguided Focus on Mental Illness," The New York Times, December 17, 2012.