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Thursday, April 27, 2017

Gun Rights: Mental Health

This seems to be the perfect time to discuss what's on all of our minds: Guns and Mental Health.  April is considered to the "open season" for shootings in the United States.  It's a terrible way to put it, but it's true.

Mass Shootings In April:
The Shootings in Cincinnati on April 22nd, 2016
The Shootings at Fort Hood on April 2nd, 2014
The Boston Marathon on April 15th, 2013
The Shootings at Oikos University on April 2nd, 2012
The Shootings at the Immigration Center in Binghamton New York on April 3rd, 2009
The Virginia Tech Massacre on April 16th, 2007
The Columbine School Shooting on April 20th, 1999
and sooooo many more...

Do mass shootings happen other times of year?  Yes, unfortunately they happen year round.   All over the United States and all over the World. They happen somewhere every day.  In fact, in the United States there were reportedly more mass shootings in 2016 than there were days in a year.  Yeah, that's a lot of mass shootings.  But WHY do they happen?  What can we do to stop these senseless losses of life?

The debate is never ending.  Some like to blame mental illness (because only unstable people shoot other people).  Some say it's just too easy to get guns (which is certainly true in some situations).  Some say it's poor training (for serious, you don't have to have any training to buy a gun).  Some say it's inadequate back ground checks (the 3 day loophole is un-imaginable but none-the-less a true fact).  And even more say it's just an American propensity to love guns (yes, we love our guns).

The Truth
The truth is this:  IT IS ALL THOSE THINGS.  Consider for a second: your building with blocks with your kids and you put a block down on the ground and it's steady and sturdy and your not afraid it will come crashing to the ground.  But then your kids start willy-nilly stacking the blocks to try to make the biggest tower possible?  While your foundation might be solid, the randomly stacked blocks that don't seem to have any other relationship to each other.  The pile is making your block tower increasingly unstable.

Gun regulations are like this.  At first, our founders gave us this sturdy base.  They gave us the 2nd Amendment: The Right to Bear Arms (never mind the part about creating a militia in the event that our government needs over throwing).  They gave us the freedom to own a gun.  They gave us a fundamental right to arm ourselves.  What they didn't predict was the unpredictability of the greatly diverse society that they were building and what that unpredictability would do to their stable foundation.  Add onto that stable foundation mental illness, untrained weapon owners, children, hormones, racial and economic injustices, and a society that refuses to see reality and you have a very unstable tower.

The Problems
The problem is, we have mentally unstable people who have guns.
The problem is, some people don't have the capacity to use guns responsibly.
The problem is, we have people who aren't trained in any way owning guns.
The problem is, we have dense populations of people struggling in a racially and economically un-just environments.
The problem is, we have people who just don't realize that they need to lock their guns up away from their kids.
The problem is, we have gangs carrying guns.
The problem is, we have scared police officers.
The problem is, we have a black market for illegal purchases.
The problem is, we have have a huge pile of reasons why people shoot other people.

So what do we do?
The answer is fairly simple to me: Take guns away from people who shouldn't have them.  No, don't take guns away from everyone.  No, it's not just certain types of guns or certain additions or alterations you can make to guns.  No, not everyone should face restrictions to their 2nd Amendment Rights.  Only some people.  Take those people's right away until they can prove they can handle a deadly weapon. The complication is how do we as a people decide who shouldn't have guns and who should? I don't think that's an easy question to answer.

What?  TAKE AWAY A RIGHT?! No, no, no!  How could we do such a thing?!  This is our fundamental RIGHT to own a gun! Turns out, we actually have precedent for taking away rights, or even just restricting rights.  Lets take each of the first 10 Constitutional Rights and look at them briefly.

1- Freedom of Speech, Assembly, Free Press, and to Petition the government.  This one is simple and everyone knows where these rights have been infringed.  Can you just say anything you want whenever you want?  No, you can say SOME of what you want.  But you can't say anything that is considered Hate Speech.  You can't say anything that can cause mass hysteria (like yelling "Bomb" in a crowded airport).  You can't assemble without a permit based on your assembly location, the estimated crowd size, and you can't assemble within a certain distance from the president or other specific officials.  The press is free, well kinda... We all know the current state of the situation with the media.  And of course you can petition the government, but only if you get a certain number of signatures, and only if that government website isn't "taken down for maintenance" indefinitely.

2- Right to Keep and Bear Arms.  Turns out this right has actually been infringed upon before.  Felony convicts can't purchase guns legally (thanks to Chapter 44 title 18 of the U.S. Code).  People convicted of under domestic violence or with a protective order against them cannot purchase or own a gun.  You can't buy a gun until your over 18 years old.  You can't carry guns in certain states or in certain places.  You can't wear a gun without a certain permit.  You can't buy a gun without going through a background check (except in certain loop-hole situations).

3- The government can't force anyone to house a soldier.  Turns out, this is still a right that we have that hasn't really been infringed upon.  Yey!

4- Unreasonable Search and Seizure.  The NSA has eyes everywhere.  The government could even be monitoring my blog for all I know.  They can look through our browsing history.  They can find any information they want and use that to make any search and seizure "reasonable".  Who even defines "reasonable"?  That's a good question.

5- Cannot be Denied Life, Liberty, or Property without Due Process.   Yes, police take their right to use lethal force very seriously.  Are there bad cops?  Yes, but there are more good ones.  But we cannot deny the fact that police shootings are a perfect example of when people have been denied life and liberty without due process.  Kendrec McDade, Dontre Hamilton, Eric Garner, John Crawford, Michael Brown, Akai Gurley... just to name a few.  These were all unarmed black men who were shot and killed by police officers.  They were denied their right to due process and denied their right to life.  This doesn't even include all of the people who have been detained and denied due process since the 9-11 attacks thanks to President G.W. Bush's Patriot Act.

6- The Right to Know Our Criminal Charges and be Confronted by the Accuser.  Again, the Patriot Act makes it possible for the government to use secret evidence to detain people indefinitely.  

7- Trial by Jury.  Yey!  Another one we have retained!  The problem is, these juries are not always the most impartial, especially in high profile cases.

8- Cruel and Unusual Punishment.   One word: Torture.  Yes, our government uses torture to get information.  This can and is considered a cruel and unusual punishment, but if your being questioned for potential links to terror then the government can infringe on this right, whether you are guilty or not. 

9- Other Rights...  I know, how vague, right? I don't think anyone knows what this really means.

10- Powers not explicitly given to the Federal Government shall be given to the States.  These lines are constantly being blurred and discussed.  Be-it-to-say I don't think any of the State know exactly what they can and can't control and the Federal Government is notorious for stepping in and over ruling states.  This is the age old debate of whether we should have one large all knowing all controlling power that makes every state look and act the same (the Federal Government) or a whole bunch of smaller governments with different rules that make the conglomerate of the United States into a diverse collection of laws and rules that change with each boarder crossing.   I can see benefits in both.   

Let's also consider briefly that not all people are granted the same fundamental rights in our society.  Women, black people, children, prisoners, and many other U.S. Citizens have historically been denied some rights.  In addition to that, non-U.S. Citizens are not granted the same rights as Citizens.  Should people from other countries be able to buy guns in the U.S.?  No, they aren't citizens here and are not granted the same set of freedoms.  Should people who have been convicted of violent felonies be able to own a gun?  No, and they can't (legally).  Should people on the Homeland Security's list of potential terrorist be able to buy guns?  Well, duh!  NO!  Of course there are loop holes and illegal ways to get guns, and those issues NEED to be dealt with.

So if we see through history that we do in fact have the precedent to take away or restrict our fundamental rights, then what makes guns and the 2nd Amendment different?  Well, it's not.  The key is taking away and restricting the rights of certain people without infringing on the rights of others.  This is where it gets tricky.

Gun Rights and Mental Illness
No one disputes the fact that our mental health care system is a disaster.  There are never enough beds.  Never enough funds.  Never enough medical professionals to cover the expanding assortment of mental health needs that our growing population needs.  Here's the issue with blaming gun violence on mental illness: not all mass murders are carried out by are mentally ill and not all those who are mentally ill have the desire or capacity to kill.

We've all heard the whole "momma bear doesn't want anyone messing with her cubs" analogy.  Well, all of us momma bears would kill to protect our cubs.  If my children were in danger I wouldn't hesitate to preemptively stop the person threatening them (even if that meant killing them in the rare situation where the might be necessary).  Sure, mental illness can contribute to a propensity to kill, but so can hormone changes and rage.  We cannot blame mass shootings on mental illness.

So, if Mass Shootings are not all the result of mental illnesses (although some certainly are) why stop the mentally ill from getting guns?  This is two pronged:
1- It's a matter of protecting ourselves.  Take for example the Virginia Tech Massacre.  Seung-Hui Cho had a history of mental illness and a record of admiring the Columbine Shooters.  His high school counselors noted his admiration of Columbine.  His college teachers noted (and reported to the University) the dark and often homicidal tone of his work.  He had a compiling list of incidents that showed his deteriorating mental state.  He had a history that should have prevented him from purchasing guns.  But all of the puzzle pieces weren't put together before he killed 32 people in Norris Hall on April 16th, 2007.   Why should be have stopped him from buying guns?  Because he gave us all indication that he would use them to hurt us.
2- It's a matter of protecting the mentally ill from themselves.  Statistically, those who are suicidal are more likely to succeed in killing themselves if they have access to a gun.  Those who are made to wait, in any way, are statically less likely to actually kill themselves.  Those who try to kill themselves via other deadly force are not successful as often as those with a gun.  Why should we stop these people from buying or owning a gun?  Because it might save their lives.  Also, statistically more people kill themselves with guns than kill others (this could be due to a number of reasons, emntal illness only being one).

What CAN we do about mentally ill people and gun rights?  For starters, we need health care professionals to weigh in to determine which mental illnesses are the most likely to cause homicidal or suicidal thoughts. Then we need those professionals to help screen their own clients to either clear them or determine their need for gun restrictions.

Certainly we can do a better job of restricting the mentally ill's access to guns.  A data-base of those hospitalized with mental illness that have shown tendencies towards suicidal and homicidal tendencies is a start.  A way for communication between back-ground checks and health care systems that can find links in potential mental issues.  We can make the process take longer so that people who are immediately suicidal will have the time to think through their actions.  We can close the under-age loopholes that made Cho's childhood records that detailed his obsession with Columbine not accessible to the University and those selling him guns.

We can hold gun sellers accountable when they sell weapons to people with Mental illness (under the premise that they will be less likely to sell a gun through what is called the Charleston Loophole if they suspect a person might be mentally ill).  Can we completely stop them from obtaining guns?  No, there will always be black markets and back-door ways to get guns, but we can put road blocks in their way and make it much harder to get guns.  And maybe those road blocks will give authorities proper time and evidence to stop them from killing themselves or others.

Certainly there is no end-all that will stop mass killings and prevent people from killing other people with guns.  But there are things we can do to deter people from killing themselves or others.  I would happily wait a few days (or weeks) longer to get a gun if it meant that some others were properly screened.  I would happily turn over my mental health background to a database "watch-dog" if it meant possibly protecting myself and others later.  We all will need to give little in order to get a little.

What are your thoughts and opinions?  Do you think the mentally ill should be restricted from purchasing or owning guns?  Please share your RESPECTFUL thoughts and comments below.


  1. Do the mentally ill have a right to protect themselves? Who gets to decide what mental illness or the criteria for taking their right to own a gun? By your own words in this article you seem to not want anyone with a mental illness to own a gun, are you going to be the one to provide protection for them? Who is going to pay for that protection? Cops are not here to protect us at all, period end of story, they are here to Solve Crimes, NO COP can prevent crime, NO ONE but the individual who made the choice to commit a crime could have stopped it from happening...Guns don't kill people...People CHOOSE to use a gun to kill people...If not a gun it would be a knife or a bat or chain saw or an axe or a bomb....YOU CANNOT REGULATE HUMAN BEHAVIOR, you can create punishments for violating others rights or damage to property...BTW Most murders are crimes of passion and most of those killers won't or wouldn't kill again...You left out a bunch of Factual information in this scum piece you call an article...Like the fact that most gun deaths are self inflicted Suicides...

    1. It's obvious that you didn't READ the article above. I'd ask you to please take a moment to reread it because it addressed MANY of the issues you outlined. I'm not anti-guns nor am I insensitive to the struggles of those who are mentally ill. I simply believe that WE CAN DO MORE to protect them and ourselves. Gun regulations are just ONE of the things we can do.

  2. I really enjoyed this article! I love the fact that you really made a point that there needs to be a better way to determine who can carry a gun. I have been a gun owner for the last 5 years. In Florida, we have the right to carry a concealed weapon. I must say it was REALLY easy to get the license. You literally just have to take a one day course, pass the practical, pass a background check and pay your fees. I am of sound mind, but like you said, there are many who aren't. Guns don't kill people... people kill people. It's so easy to focus on guns but if there were no guns, someone could still accomplish their mission without them. Look at terror attacks... has everyone forgot about anthrax? Enough ranting... I agree with you 100 million %- we need a better vetting process.

    1. Thanks for your support!! People could certainly accomplish terror (or killing themselves or others) without guns, but through a little bit of regulation we could really help by taking away at least some of the access of these people to deadly weapons. We could also cut back on the accidental deaths and crimes of passion through a better regulatory vetting process.