Mental Illness and Gun Control

In the wake the recent push to blame mass shootings on something, the focus on mental illness, mental health and gun control has come into prominence. So just what is mental illness? The American Psychiatric Association defines mental illness as, “health conditions involving changes in emotion, thinking or behavior (or a combination of these). Mental illnesses are associated with distress and/or problems functioning in social, work or family activities.”The National Alliance on Mental Illness defines mental illness as, “a condition that affects a person’s thinking, feeling or mood. Such conditions may affect someone’s ability to relate to others and function each day. Each person will have different experiences, even people with the same diagnosis.” The Mayo Clinic defines mental illness, also called mental health disorders, as, “a wide range of mental health conditions-disorders that affect your mood, thinking and behavior. Examples of mental illness include depression, anxiety disorders, schizophrenia, eating disorders and addictive behaviors.”Medline Plus defines mental disorders (or mental illnesses) as, “conditions that affect your thinking, feeling, mood, and behavior. They may be occasional or long-lasting (chronic). They can affect your ability to relate to others and function each day.”  Using any of these definitions, someone who has been married more than one time could be diagnosed as “mentally ill” because of the inability to relate to others. Military veterans with PTSD would, by definition, be mentally ill. Bear in mind, military veterans are actively recruited to work for police departments. In fact, veterans’ preference points are used as a recruitment incentive into a job where they are given guns. When you fill out the questionnaire for the doctor and you answer yes to the question about ever feeling depressed, you could be diagnosed as mentally ill.

So how are shootings, particularly mass shootings, and mental illness related? First off, we need to define mass shooting. A good working definition of a mass shooting is “an event where three or more people are shot in one incident, at one location, at roughly the same time, excluding gang-related and drug-related shootings.” On 08/14/2019, six police officers were woulded in a stand-off in Philadelphia when police tried to serve a warrant. In 2018 Philadelphia experienced 351 homicides. On 08/04/2019, 10 people were killed in a shooting in Dayton, Ohio. In 2017, Dayton experienced 30 homicides. On 08/03/2019, 22 people were killed in a shooting at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas.  In 2018, El Paso experienced 23 homicides. Washington D.C. experienced 159 homicides in 2018, an increase of 40%. In 2018, Chicago experienced 561 homicides, which is down 100 from 2017. Detroit experienced 261 homicides in 2018, down from 267 in 2017. New Orleans experienced 146 homicides in 2018, down from 157 in 2017 and 174 in 2016.  Baltimore experienced 309 homicides in 2018, down from 342 in 2017. Miami experienced 51 homicides in 2018, down from 59 in 2017.

How does all of this relate to mental illness? There is a movement afoot by politicians that suggests the mass shootings are perpetrated by the mentally ill. Even President Trump targeted mental illness as the cause of the mass shootings in Dayton and El Paso. It is easy to say that someone who kills a lot of people must be mentally ill. The Japanese Kamikaze pilots of WW2 were not considered mentally ill when they flew their aircrafts into American warships in an effort to win the war. As a matter of fact, it was a great honor to die for the Fatherland as a Kamikaze pilot. Nobody has suggested the 09/11 terrorists were mentally ill when they flew passenger aircraft into the World Trade Center. There are some who even believe that these terrorists died as martyr’s and were rewarded for their actions. Soldiers in combat who kill the enemy are not considered mentally ill. They are considered heroes.

What is unique about killing three victims that does not apply to killing only one? Why must the single shooter in Dayton be mentally ill when those that committed the 30 homicides in Dayton in 2017 are not? So, if those who perpetrate homicides are mentally ill, then the standard for criminal culpability must designate these people unfit to stand trial. The M’Naghten rule, which is the standard in for measuring competency to stand trial, states, “at the time of committing the act, the accused was laboring under such a defect of reason, from disease of the mind, as not to know the nature and quality of the act he was doing or, if he did know it, that he did not know what he was doing was wrong.” Using the previously discussed definitions of mental illness, someone who commits a homicide would clearly be laboring under a defect of reason and, therefore, unable to stand trial.

So just how are mass shootings and mental illness related? Or are they? Furthermore, is the mere suggestion of a link that does not clearly exist an attempt to legislate gun control? In an August 22, 2019 article titled, “New York’s ‘Redflag’ Gun-Control Measure Goes into Effect this Weekend,” the New York Postoutlined the new gun control measure: “Petitioners must provide evidence that individuals own, possess or have access to a firearm and pose a threat to themselves or others. Applications will be heard and a decision to move forward with a hearing will be made on the same day a petition is filed. If a person is found ‘likely to engage in conduct that would result in serious harm to himself, herself, or others,’ a temporary ‘extreme-risk protection order’ can be immediately issued, effectively blocking the individual from firearm possession or purchase, according to the legislation. Such an order would allow law enforcement to immediately remove any guns from the person’s home.” A mere subtle change in the definition of mental illness could have a wide range of unintended consequences.

I am not suggesting that we do not have a mental illness problem in this country, because we surely do. Newsone.compublished an article in 2013 by Michael Arceneaux that led with, “The three largest mental health providers in the nation are the following jails: Cook County in Illinois, Los Angeles County and Rikers Island in New York.” What I am suggesting is that we exercise caution when linking mental illness to mass shootings. There are always unintended consequences. Poorly drafted mental illness legislation, in an attempt to legislate gun control, could lead to those who truly need help not to seek it in fear of government reprisals. An article published in 2017 by Leah Samuel on Statnews.comclaims, “Medicine is grappling with rising levels of physician burnout, one of the factors driving high rates of depression and suicide in the profession. But physicians who suffer from mood disorders are often reluctant to seek treatment — in part because it might jeopardize their license to practice.” Two-thirds of U.S. states ask doctors the broad form of mental health question, “Are you currently diagnosed with a mental health condition?”  This interrogative is included despite the fact that groups including the American Medical Association, the American Psychiatric Association, and the Federation of State Medical Boards recommend against asking such a generalized question. The suggestion is that DOCTORS are foregoing treatment for fear of losing their license.  Food for thought.

 

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