Liz Spikol (The Trouble With Spikol) wrote about whether those struggling with mental illness should have the ability to buy and possess guns in her weekly column for the Philadelphia Weekly. I can certainly identify with some of her feelings:
I don’t always want to die. Just … usually. It’s hard to wake up every morning and consider the facts—I’m going to have to hang in there for another day, get through the working and the sleeping until the next day comes with the same question: Can I make it through today?
I did it yesterday, but what about tomorrow?
I drive past a bridge, and think about jumping. I see a sale on razor blades, and I think of slitting my wrists. I wait for the trolley, and think of throwing myself in front of it. It’s a macabre parlor game I play without being entirely aware of it. Like absently counting yellow cars as you go down the highway.
My obsession with suicide—and my daily struggle not to give in—isn’t, I’d venture, so unusual for people with serious mental illness. So much of the time we’re locked in battle.
Tell me about it, sistah. She goes on:
Now, a question: Do you want a person like me to own a gun? I could walk into a gun store today, put on a smile, chat with the clerk and go over with him which firearm would be best for a single woman who wants home protection.
I could get a gun more easily than I could adopt a dog from most animal shelters.
So could a lot of people like me—sad, angry, desperate, but smiling and going out to dinner and seeing a movie and talking to friends. Hiding is the most natural thing in the world to us. We’re all covert operators of a kind.
When Seung-Hui Cho killed 32 people at Virginia Tech, it got several debates going at once, many of them to do with gun ownership and mental illness. What are the privacy rights of students with mental troubles? Does the right to bear arms apply equally to those who are delusional and suicidal?
Despite my normal facade, which I master, there is no way in hell I should own a gun. A couple days after the massacre, I wrote as much on my blog, expecting to be pilloried.
Whether we’re talking about depression that leads to suicide or the kind of mental troubles that engender mass slaughter, the fundamental problem is the same: We don’t effectively keep guns out of the hands of people who—through no fault of their own and for organic reasons they have no control over—should not be allowed to own them.
Liz, I agree with you wholeheartedly. I know there’s debate among the mentally ill about whether they should be able to purchase firearms because they have the "right" to.
The right to bear arms should have a restiction akin to that on free speech:
"The government can regulate speech that is intended and likely to incite "imminent lawless action," or where the speech presents a "clear and present danger" to the security of the nation."
Those who are severely mentally ill should NOT be allowed to possess firearms. I’m on the border of sounding TAC-ish here, but those with severe mental illness represent a sort of "clear and present danger" to others and themselves.
Determining who is or isn’t severely mentally ill is a tough call. I’ll even play Devil’s Advocate on myself and refer to my last post on "supposedly shooting the messenger" in which I said that 50 percent of participants in a study admitted to having a lifetime psychiatric disorder. I’m basically saying that’s 150 million people who can’t own firearms. Even I think that’s a bit too much.
So how is it possible to regulate this problem? In all honesty, I do not have the answers. Background checks are supposed to be performed before a purchase goes through. (I think the waiting time varies from state to state. If I gauge myself correctly, New York state has a 7-day waiting period.) Background checks do not include a mental history. Congressmen around the country have begun introducing bills that require states to identify people who were ordered by a court to be committed to a hospital for inpatient care. This means if a person voluntarily checks himself into a hospital or receives outpatient care (including psychiatrist/therapist sessions), this information would not be required. Virginia Governor Tim Kaine went a step further in his bill, however, saying that he wanted to include people who receive outpatient care. That’s a little – no pun intended – insane to me. Either way, Cho wouldn’t have – another pun here – completely fit the bill. Although a judge ordered that he receive outpatient treatment, he was never committed. As a result, "his name was never entered into the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System and he was later allowed to by a gun." I’m curious about the number of guns Cho purchased. It sounded like a possessed a few handguns at the time of the shooting.
Interestingly enough, National Rifle Association (NRA) Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre supports preventing access to guns for those who have been committed to a hospital via court order. The vice president of the American Psychiatric Association and the president of Mental Health America (MHA) have spoken out against releasing medical records.
"David Shern, president of the [MHA], denounced the measure as ‘an extremely ill-informed regressive social policy that further stigmatizes people and will do nothing to reduce gun violence.’
The critics say the ban discriminates against people with mental illness, based on the erroneous assumption that they are more violent than other people."
[Aside: Enter TAC]
Should we [as mentally ill patients] give up our HIPAA rights and allow stores that sell weapons to peek into our medical history to detemine whether we’re fit to own a gun? I don’t think our entire medical history should be divulged. (Not unless you want to, which for some reason, you actually can.) National mental health organizations are against any policies that would require state or federal access to confidential medical information. The argument is it would deter people from seeking treatment. (I’m not normally thinking that I shouldn’t get treatment for my depression because the government won’t allow me to buy a gun, but that’s just me.) Perhaps at least three witnesses should be involved (like applying for a financial loan) in the purchase who can verify that the buyer is mentally fit to purchase a weapon. This isn’t foolproof solution, but it might help.
If I had access to a gun, I’d have been dead a long time ago. Actually, my father-in-law, who used to to be an avid hunter, possesses guns in his home. I don’t know where they are, but even if I did, the key to the cabinet is located somewhere else. I get pretty suicidal, but I probably would get tired and give up after hours of searching for the key and the cabinet. I could go to a Super Wal-Mart and maybe get my hands on one, but, uh, I won’t go that route.
I’ve been hospitalized twice for suicide attempts. The first for overdosing on over-the-counter medications and the second for several attempts (attempting to hang myself, drink household cleaners, etc.). The outcome to resolve both incidents were not very fun. (Try drinking even a Dixie cup full of charcoal and see how you can swallow it.)
I can go to a store to purchase firearms and likely pass a background check with flying colors. Since I’ve voluntarily committed myself to a hospital. I’ve never been "court-ordered" to do so. Given my mental history, this is a problem. I’m sure there are many other people out there who are worse off than I am and can still obtain guns.
The law has to include information to alert a firearms seller as to who can and can’t use a gun responsibly. The inability to do so could affect (and will) affect the lives of countless others. The route to doing that, however, is not easy or as simple as we’d like to think.
And remember, even if the bills mentioned above had already been law, they would have never stopped the VTech shootings. Cho would have passed with flying colors.