Sunday, January 30, 2011

See a shrink, lose your rights?

Sunday morning coffee with the local paper (Albuquerque Journal) brings this unsigned editorial to our attention:
Don't Let Mentally Ill Buy, Lock, and Load

Think that the federal Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act keeps people the legal system has deemed mentally ill from buying a gun?  Not in New Mexico.


The [2007] law update was prompted by the Virginia Tech shooter, Seung-Hui Cho, deemed mentally ill after stalking two female students.  But because Virginia didn't report Cho's mental health history to the Brady background check system, he was able to buy handguns and use them.  To kill 32 people.
There's no question at all that Cho should not have been allowed to buy a gun, because a court found him to be mentally ill:
Seung Hui Cho never received the treatment ordered by a judge who declared him dangerously mentally ill less than two years before his rampage at Virginia Tech, law enforcement officials said, exposing flaws in Virginia's labyrinthine mental health system, including confusion about the law, spotty enforcement and inadequate funding. 
 There was a breakdown in governance, and people died.  But the slippery slope appears in the Albuquerque Journal editorial (note: I'd link it, but they have it behind a pay wall*):
What is clear is that this is not a solution in search of a problem.  UpFront columnist Thom Cole reported New Mexico had almost 1000 involuntary commitments of mentally ill persons last year alone.
The shell covering the pea just moved.  Many (perhaps most) involuntary commitments are not people who have been found to be mentally ill.  For example, if the police respond to a reported suicide attempt, the person is almost certainly going to be transported to a mental hospital for short term observation.  This is clearly the right thing to do, but this decision was made by the responding Law Enforcement officers, not by a Court of law weighing evidence.

Oh, come on Borepatch, I hear you say, this wouldn't be abused.  Oh yeah?  Via Stephany, we find this:

When Lois Kamenitz arrived at Pearson International Airport in November, hoping to board a flight to California, she was stunned to learn that U.S. border officials were barring her entry. The reason: Years ago, she attempted suicide.

The 64 year-old Toronto woman was fingerprinted and photographed. She questioned the U.S. Customs and Border Protection officer about how he accessed her medical records. He said he didn’t. Instead, he knew police had attended her Toronto home in 2006 because she had done “violence to self.”


It’s not an isolated incident, says Ryan Fritsch, legal counsel for the Psychiatric Patient Advocate Office. He has heard of about eight similar cases in the past year, all involving non-criminal contact between police and people with mental health issues — records of contact that end up at the Department of Homeland Security.

“These kinds of disclosures and the retention of this kind of information has a chilling effect on persons with mental illness,” said Fritsch, who fears people will think twice before calling 911. “A mental crisis should not be a lifelong sentence for stigma and discrimination.”
And so to the Albuquerque Journal editorial.  To fix a failure of governance, they propose a policy where we already see repeated breakdown in governance.

My take is that this won't make a lot of difference in the very ill - their conditions are serious enough that they'll be picked up by the system (as indeed Cho was).  Where it will make a great difference is with the borderline cases - people who suffer from depression, for example.  People will think twice before seeing a doctor for, say, Prozac if they think that they'll end up in some database somewhere, and may lose some of their rights.

It's a terrible policy recommendation, from people who consider themselves well meaning and well informed.  They're certainly not well informed.  Society has made admirable strides in dialing down the stigma of mental illness.  The Albuquerque Journal editors simply don't see that they're proposing to dial it back up, for no benefit.

* Helpful suggestion to the Albuquerque Journal: while it may make sense to put your hard news behind a pay wall, the idea of asking the Internet to pay for your opinion is absurd.  It's not like there isn't plenty of free opinion to be found on the 'Net.


soulful sepulcher said...

Another tidbit of info: in WA state (and maybe others)if you are ITA (Involuntary Commitment Act)you LOSE rights to guns and your permit, immediately. No matter WHAT got you (or who)ITA'd you. Only way to get the firearm right back is to go before a judge and we know how that would work.

Ppl can be ITA by others not in their family. This happened to my daughter for being a silent, autistic kid in the wrong treatment system. She doesn't understand or probably care if she lost rights to firearm possession, but to lose the right, for that reason is a greater loss: the beginning of many civil liberties lost to mental health patients once in the system.

Watch, next it WILL be driver's licenses....discrimination has not ever left the MI area--it in fact is thriving, and that goes for the inside of the hospitals and care facilities too.

Hope all is well with you there, Borepatch.

"Zack" said...

In Illinois, voluntary or by court order, any in-patient mental health treatment (alcohol rehab, for example) will trip the system alarm and the Illinois State Police will come calling for your FOID card and your guns.

Anonymous said...

Does this mean that elected officials won't be able to serve under similar circumstances? After all, they wield the biggest guns of all, the police and military.

Six said...

I've probably done several hundred 72 hour involuntary committals(and refused many, many more). Most of them were in fact for suicide attempts. The remainder were primarily gravely disabled persons. Your point is well made and needs to be highlighted. Such folks need to see a qualified physician. They may or may not need forther psychiatric evaluation and/or treatment. The point is I may be qualified to make a street decision on whether or not a 72 hour psych evaluation is justified but I am not qualified to make a long term diagnosis. That's for a medical professional and down the line a judge or grand jury. No action beyond the initital evaluation should be riding on my decision and to use such as a basis for ANYTHING else is ludicrous.

Unknown said...

In Washington State once you have been ITA'd you are on a tracking system FOR LIFE. I agree with Stephany, the fact that my son has forever lost his Gun Rights without committing a crime, etc. the fact that he doesn't know did not know that those he asked to help him in crisis, "mental health professionals" committed perjury and forgery and a prosecutor know he was presenting at the VERY least, questionable testimony. My son's attorney's voice is the only one heard before the order is granted. The hearing took a total of 1 minute and 26 seconds...for a man to lose his gun rights for life and be court ordered to take drugs that have already caused him serious damage. It gets worse.

Divemedic said...

In Florida, the 72 hour mental health evaluation is called a Baker Act. However, that is not the same thing as the Federal Law for making one a prohibited person.

The Federal Law law making you a prohibited person requires that you be ADJUDICATED as a mental defective or committed to a mental facility. This does not include being involuntarily taken in for observation.

According to the Supreme Court, under the 14th amendment, you cannot be committed without due process and a hearing. See Addington V Texas and Oconnor v. Donaldson.

Anonymous said...

The PTSD thing is all the rage with the VA right now. They try to get all combat vets stamped with it, and even others that hadn't even deployed. I had a friend complain about not being able to sleep due to back injury. The VA tried to convince him it was PTSD/Depression and tried to talk him into taking crap like Paxil.

If you need help, get it. If you don't need help, do NOT let them stamp your medical records with PTSD. You'll regret it.

Sabra said...

Things like this are so frustrating.

For one, fewer people will be willing to seek treatment lest they lose their gun rights.

Second, it only increases the stigma of mental illness. More often than not, people with some sort of personality disorder aren't dangerous to anyone, and have little risk of becoming so, but "ZOMG ban crazzies from having GUNS" is going to give the opposite impression to the layman.

Of course, it's not helped by the fact that most in the Psych field seem to be flaming freaking liberals. A bleeding heart is a good thing in that field. The false belief that gun ownership increases suicide rates (and, therefore, restrictions on them leads to a decrease) is not.