Something has to be done about gun violence! And no one has the political will and bravery to pursue meaningful reforms, but demonizing and making life more difficult for people with mental illness is always in fashion, so.
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and lawmakers agreed on Monday to a broad package of changes to gun laws that would expand the state's ban on assault weapons and would include new measures to keep guns away from the mentally ill.Any time people with mental illness are referred to as "the mentally ill," you know that nothing good will follow.
In an acknowledgment that many people have suggested that part of the solution to gun violence is a better government response to mental illness, the legislation includes not only new restrictions on gun ownership, but also efforts to limit access to guns by the mentally ill.Unlike people without mental illness, who never hurt themselves and never hurt other people.
The most significant new proposal would require mental health professionals to report to local mental health officials when they believe that patients are likely to harm themselves or others. Law enforcement would then be authorized to confiscate any firearm owned by a dangerous patient; therapists would not be sanctioned for a failure to report such patients if they acted "in good faith."
"People who have mental health issues should not have guns," Mr. Cuomo told reporters. "They could hurt themselves, they could hurt other people."
Partly, this is the inevitable result of axiomatically concluding that anyone who goes on a shooting spree must be mentally ill, because no "sane" person would do such a thing. Although not really anyone, because when was the last time a brown-skinned gang member who killed multiple people in a drive-by was expected or allowed to introduce an insanity defense?
And partly, this is the inevitable result of lumping mental illness into one giant, indistinguishable monolith, and pretending that everyone who has any one specific, diagnosable mental illness behaves in the same way. All depression patients are the same. All PTSD patients are the same. Never mind that individual people experience every type of illness in individual ways, even if there are common features in how the disorder manifests, and never mind the radically inconsistent treatment that individual people have, based on highly diverse access to our patchy for-profit healthcare system that regards treatment for illness as a privilege.
Again, I understand the impulse to want to keep high-powered assault weaponry out of the hands of people who are dangerously mentally ill, but that urge is predicated on assuming everyone who commits these acts is mentally ill, and that they can be correctly identified and their behavior accurately predicted. Even if that were the case (it is not), presumably that means making sure everyone psychologically disposed toward psychotically-motivated violence has access to and makes use of their access to mental healthcare. But:
But such a requirement "represents a major change in the presumption of confidentiality that has been inherent in mental health treatment," said Dr. Paul S. Appelbaum, the director of the Division of Law, Ethics, and Psychiatry at the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons, who said the Legislature should hold hearings on possible consequences of the proposal.This is not helpful. This is harmful.
"The prospect of being reported to the local authorities, even if they do not have weapons, may be enough to discourage patients with suicidal or homicidal thoughts from seeking treatment or from being honest about their impulses," he said.
The only sure way to keep guns out of the hands of anyone, mentally ill or not, who wants to use them to kill people is to get rid of the guns. The end.
There are a lot of people who don't like to hear that, but that doesn't make it not true.
[Related Reading: In Pursuit of Doing Something Meaningful. An Observation About Mental Illness.]