Mentally ill or mentally defective?

I found this article on about.com about NRA President Wayne LaPierre – appearing on the CBS Morning Show – discussing the issue of those with mental illness owning guns. (In light of Cho, VTech, yadda yada)

Apparently, a bill passed the House of Representatives that pushes states to deliver information on those who have a criminal or mentally ill (see documentation on being hospitalized in a mental hospital, i.e. "behavioral" as they call it these days) background:

This bill requires (and provides funding for) states to send information on criminals and those judged to be mentally ill to the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System. Apparently this measure would have prevented Cho from purchasing the guns he used in the Virginia Tech shooting.

On About.com’s bipolar disorder community, a member – Sharon – went off on LaPierre’s reference to those who are "mentally ill":

"That being said, I do have a diagnosis of BP, and from what Mr. LaPierre was saying, I am mentally defective. I flinched every time he said it, and he said it with gusto at least ten times in the course of the interview. He never said mentally ill, only mentally defective, mentally defective, mentally defective. And people wonder why so many of us ‘mentally defective’ people feel we are stigmatized."

About.com looked into it and apparently, despite the overuse of LaPierre’s terminology, it isn’t original:

Indeed, we found that "mentally defective" seems to be one of LaPierre’s favorite phrases. Speaking of the House bill (which was written with much input from the NRA) to Newsweek, he said, "We just don’t think it’s really gun control to try to keep guns out of the hands of criminals and the mentally defective," and used the phrase other times as well.

We were horrified to find that Mr. LaPierre could actually justify his use of the phrase "mentally defective": it is the language used in existing law. For example, in the Federal Firearms Transaction Record for over-the-counter purchases of guns, one of the questions is: "Have you ever been adjudicated mentally defective (which includes having been adjudicated incompetent to manage your own affairs) or have you ever been committed to a mental institution?" A "yes" answer to this question prohibits the person from purchasing or receiving a firearm. [emphasis mine]

And since the bill passed by the House is designed to help states comply with those existing laws, it does nothing to de-stigmatize the language. However, it is worth pointing out that since the law uses the word "adjudicate," it appears only a person who has been judged mentally ill in a legal setting would, at this time, be barred from buying a gun.

It’s OK. Rep. Carolyn McCarthy (OK, who I admit, I voted for) has laid down the bottom line:

"My bottom line, I’m sorry, is if you’re mentally ill, you should not be able to buy a gun."

I can’t blame her. Her husband was killed in 1993 in a Long Island Railroad by a "deranged gunman." Regardless, the issue is still icky, sticky, and tricky.

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