Guest Post by Seth Bringman
In the wake of the tragedy in Newtown, many including myself have called for a nationwide conversation about our mental health care system and the role that mental health issues plays in gun violence. We absolutely need to improve access to quality, mental health care and combat the societal stigma that prevents individuals from seeking mental health care.
Some including the NRA, however, have called for a national database of the so-called “mentally ill.” At first blush, it seems simple: Keep a list of crazy people and don’t sell them guns. But the idea of such a database is even more insane than any of the people whose names it would list.
Let me first say that I don’t consider myself to be at complete odds with the NRA. I have proudly worked for pro-gun, NRA-endorsed Democratic candidates and I have proudly touted their records when it comes to the Second Amendment.
But when it comes to the NRA’s proposal for a national database of the mentally ill, I could not disagree with the gun lobby more.
We already have a federal requirement prohibiting the sale of a firearm to anyone who “has been adjudicated as a mental defective or has been committed to any mental institution.” Many states have even broader requirements. Moreover, mental health professionals are already required to disclose to authorities if they believe, in their expert capacity, that a patient intends to commit a violent crime.
Here’s what those advocating a database don’t seem to understand: People who seek mental health treatment, just like those who seek physical health treatment, are typically helped by that treatment. In other words, they get better. That is the point. Often times, people fully recover. Those who have recovered pose no threat. And many people who seek mental health treatment and can be classified as “mentally ill” in some way are not, have never been and will never be a physical threat to anyone. Yet we would presumably add their names to a database, compromising their sensitive medical history.
What information would this database contain? The names of everyone who has ever sought therapy? Everyone diagnosed with a mental health condition? The prescription medication all mental health patients have taken in the past or at present? The full, detailed files of every therapy session? And at what point would someone be considered too “mentally ill” to own a gun? What diagnosis or diagnoses must an American receive in order to be prohibited from expressing the right in question? Would we need to have “crazy panels” of psychologists to determine the right to gun ownership on a case-by-case basis for anyone listed in the database?
What exact database, Fair Gun Lobby, are you entertaining? And at what cost – not just financial but also in terms of the humiliation and loss of freedom it would ensue – would such a database require? Who would have access to such a database? And how laughably insecure would that database be?
It seems extraordinary that leaders of the gun lobby, more likely than not small government advocates themselves, would push an expansive, invasive national database of supposed crazy people, AND – perhaps most hypocritical of all – deny in the process the rights of law-abiding Americans who pose no threat whatsoever to society.
As many as half of Americans have gone to therapy at some point in their lives. If non-experts trolled through their mental health files, they might very well consider these individuals to be “mentally ill.” But they’re not crazy in the sense that they would commit violent, gun-related crimes. They’re not going to cause the next Newtown. And their names don’t belong in a database.
I’m not a gun owner, and I don’t necessarily intend to own a gun in the foreseeable future. But I don’t want to have that option – that right – revoked simply because I went to therapy at one point in my life and the therapist wrote some stuff down. I don’t want any right arbitrarily denied to Americans simply because they went and saw a doctor.
Just imagine the added stigma we would create if our country went down such a slippery road. Anyone seeking therapy – or receiving a diagnosis or taking mental health medication or whatever insanity the NRA is proposing – could be punished for doing so by having his or her name and personal medical history entered into a big, national database that would perhaps be available to the fingertips of every gun shop owner in America. Now THAT is insane.
It’s also counterproductive. Mental health care saves lives. We want so-called “crazy people” – the “mentally ill” – to receive the care of professionals who can provide it. We want them to do so in private and without humiliation. We want them to be diagnosed. We want them to take medication if necessary. We don’t want people who need help to be inhibited from receiving the care they need. To me, the real danger in terms of mental health and gun violence lies in those who severely need help, those who might actually be a danger to society, but never seek treatment for fear of having their names added to this big crazybase.
And not to be paranoid or anything (is paranoia something that would enter me into the database?? I better retract that…), once such a database were compiled, what else could it be used for? What other rights or privileges should someone be denied because they’ve been diagnosed with whatever the psychological experts at the NRA deem a threat to society? Maybe we won’t be able to fly a plane. Maybe we won’t be able to leave our homes. Hell, just put us all in the nuthouse right now just to be sure.
Oh and before I forget, all of you who pay lip service to our veterans, let’s just make sure they’re all on the NRA’s list of crazies, since they disproportionately are impacted by mental health issues following battle and therefore will obviously return home and start shooting the people whose freedoms they just got done protecting abroad. Because THAT makes sense.
Just put everyone’s name on the list, NRA. We’re all mentally ill in our own way, aren’t we? Would that help us control gun violence? Would that help protect our freedoms? What’dya say, NRA?
How about we stop the insanity and focus on improving our mental health care system.
Bringman is a Democratic consultant.