Mental illness has become a sort of panacea in the gun rights debate. If only we can address the mental illness factor all the violence will cease. It’s one of the few things that both the pro-gun and anti-gun sides can agree on. In fact I agree that mental illness needs to be looked at. Where I differ strongly from most people in this debate is that I don’t think the State should be involved in the matter. When the State gets involved it issues decrees and those decrees always lead to punishments. Obama’s latest executive order on firearms claims to address mental illness but the way it goes about it can only make things worse:
The Social Security Administration has indicated that it will begin the rulemaking process to include information in the background check system about beneficiaries who are prohibited from possessing a firearm for mental health reasons.
The Department of Health and Human Services is finalizing a rule to remove unnecessary legal barriers preventing States from reporting relevant information about people prohibited from possessing a gun for specific mental health reasons.
Both clauses create additional barriers between people suffering from mental illnesses and treatment. Although the common belief held by Americans is that all mental illnesses are permanent the reality is quite different. Many people suffer from temporary mental illnesses. Non-chronic depression is probably the most common example. Even people who suffer from chronic mental illnesses are often able to control them through therapy, medication, meditation, etc.
A lot of people fall into temporary periods of depression that can become bad enough where they’re deemed a danger to themselves and others. Unfortunately these temporary periods can lead to lifetime prohibitions. Let’s consider a gun owner who has fallen into a period of severe depression after the death of their spouse. This gun owner desperately needs to seek help but doesn’t want to risk losing his gun ownership privileges. With every additional barrier that is erected the likelihood that this gun owners will seek help goes down.
Controlled chronic mental illness isn’t treated any better. Let’s consider another gun owner. This one suffers from bipolar disorder and their lows get severe enough where they can become a danger to themselves. It’s possible that this gun owner could live a much healthier and safer life with proper medication. Obtaining such medication requires them to get help from a mental health professional but they don’t want to see one because they are afraid they will become a prohibited person for the rest of their life. Again, we have a person suffering from a mental illness who has been dissuaded from seeking help because of fear of punishment. Instead of taking steps that could lead to a better, healthier life they continue suffering alone and therefore remain a continuing risk to themselves.
Addressing the mental illness factor should start with eliminating punishments for having a mental illness. I know that sounds backwards to a lot of people. But seeking help should be a pain-free as possible. In fact seeking help should be encouraged. Our hypothetical gun owners mentioned above shouldn’t have to fear becoming prohibited persons for the rest of their lives because they sought help.