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Florida’s Mental Illness and Guns Bill: Sensible, or a Gun Grab?

The bill actually does a fine job protecting gun rights.

by
Clayton E. Cramer

Bio

July 1, 2013 - 1:00 pm

I have written here before about the connection between the most severe mental illnesses — psychoses such as schizophrenia — and murder, and specifically mass murder. You will not be surprised that I am therefore interested in and concerned about Florida HB-1355, which changes Florida law concerning firearms disabilities for the mentally ill. This bill is now waiting for the signature of Florida Governor Rick Scott, having passed both houses of the legislature with a total of one vote against it.

If you don’t follow these matters, you probably assume that the NRA is fighting it and that mental health professionals are for it. And you would have that completely backward.

It has the backing of well-known pro-gun advocates such as Marion Hammer, a lobbyist for NRA and United Sportsmen of Florida.  It has the active opposition of mental health worker organizations in Florida, who are concerned that it will discourage people with serious mental health problems from seeking help for fear that they will be permanently disarmed.

What does the bill do? If I give you an oversimplified explanation, it sounds really scary: people who admit themselves to a mental hospital lose the right to own a gun. Actually reading the bill itself, however, shows that it is a careful balancing act: you can only lose your right to own a gun if you admit yourself into a mental hospital and the examining physician concludes that you are an “imminent danger to yourself or others” and the examining physician certifies that if you had not voluntarily admitted yourself, the physician would have filed a petition with the court to involuntarily admit you. Also, there is a procedure to get your gun rights back at a later time.

What’s this “voluntarily admit or we’ll have the court involuntarily commit you” stuff? It is often the case that people with serious mental illness problems will only reluctantly admit themselves to a hospital. Why reluctantly? Because they have serious mental illness problems. At the same time, they know that if they voluntarily admit themselves, they can usually check themselves out a few days later. But if they are involuntarily committed, it’s not so easy to leave.

Doctors prefer not to involuntarily commit people with significant mental illness problems; the paperwork and legal struggle is substantial. In 1960, or even 1970, such a person might have been involuntarily committed without much of a struggle, leading to a lifetime firearms disability under the federal Gun Control Act of 1968. These days, it takes a pretty extraordinary level of proof to get someone involuntarily committed. And sometimes, just being in a therapeutic environment away from the stresses of the outside world does a lot of good for the patient. If at all possible, doctors prefer to have patients admit themselves.

So yes, there is some danger that a person might lose their firearms rights because they show up at a mental hospital and ask for help. However, showing up at the local mental hospital and telling the doctor that you feel really depressed and don’t see much reason to go on living still isn’t going to qualify as “imminent danger.”  If you talk about committing suicide, especially if you give a detailed description of how you are going to do it real soon? Yes, you probably aren’t going to be walking out the door. And maybe you shouldn’t.

As I mentioned, in 1960 or 1970 a person with substantial mental  problems could be hospitalized on an emergency basis very quickly, and while there was a legal process to make this a long-term commitment, it was not hopelessly difficult. Today, long-term commitment is really hard — and that is part of why we are now used to mass murder as just part of modern life.

The goal of HB-1355 is to move us a little closer to the situation as it was before deinstitutionalization took effect. But unlike moving us back to the days before the ACLU decided that mentally ill people should enjoy the dignity of freezing to death on the streets rather than receive mental health care, this is an attempt to make guns (and only that one category of deadly weapon) a bit harder to get for those with serious mental illness problems.

Mental health professionals are concerned that some people will not seek mental health help for fear of being disarmed. Yes, this is probably going to happen — people will delay seeking help for fear of this, and this is a real tragedy. But what about people who have been hearing the signals from Mars telling them it is time to rise up and kill the zombies next door? We joke about it, but these things happen often. People having hallucinations that lead to horrible crimes are people that ideally would be hospitalized. But since our society isn’t willing to spend the money to help those in need, we’ll have to go for a cheap and clumsy solution: make it harder for those with really serious problems to get guns, and hope that they don’t kill as many people with the other readily available deadly weapons.

The intent of HB-1355 is good. It may even disarm a few people who are so obviously crazy that no private party will sell them a gun, or a knife, or a machete, or an axe. But I am not holding my breath on seeing murder rates fall in a measurable way because of it. At the same time, it is a carefully written law that may prevent a few severely mentally ill people from doing serious self-harm.

And it is not the apocalyptic gun control measure that the National Association for Gun Rights seems to think it is.

Clayton E. Cramer teaches history at the College of Western Idaho. His most recent book is My Brother Ron: A Personal and Social History of the Deinstitutionalization of the Mentally Ill (2012). He is raising capital for a feature film about the Oberlin Rescue of 1858.

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Top Rated Comments   
"Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety." Benjamin Franklin February 17, 1775
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
All Comments   (31)
All Comments   (31)
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After being in a mental hospital, no doctor will sign off on that patient recovering his firearms rights, for fear of liability.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
It won't be a doctor, but a judge.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Any sensible person wants guns out of the hands of the mentally ill. That being said, there is more than meets the eye, and ObamaCare was DESIGNED to use mental illness as an excuse to grab guns! Need proof? Fine - http://adinakutnicki.com/2013/02/18/obamas-march-towards-gun-control-runs-through-obamacare-via-its-definition-of-mentally-ill-commentary-by-adina-kutnicki/

As to individual gun bills, well, the jury's still out....
Adina Kutnicki, Israel http://adinakutnicki.com/about/
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
"The bill actually does a fine job protecting gun rights."

It all sounds good until "mental illness" becomes politicized. It's not as if the Left doesn't have a long and sordid history of defining any dissent and disagreement as "mental illness".
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Exactly. You've lost a child, spouse, parent, or other close relative. This can cause depression, and people who are depresses are more likely to hurt themselves or others. It really doesn't matter about how likely it changes the equation, the fact that it does at all will be seized upon.

Hey. Your cousin X who you've never met and didn't even know existed has died. You learn this from the Government. In light of the fact that this might cause you to be depressed as defined by MSM 12544 you need to surrender your firearms until you are certified as being depression free by a government board. After this is complete you may request that your weapons be returned.

Please allow 44 to 200 weeks for your application to be processed, and please include the $125,000 processing and storage fee for your guns. Prices subject to change without notice.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
The problem is one of language and definitions. Who gets to decide what constitutes behavior that is over the line?

The major problem is one of bad faith. The anti-gun people want all weapons banned and they will use any excuse to further that agenda. Even if they come up with suggestions that are sensible it is perceived as being some kind of trick, and considering their track record this is not an unreasonable assumption to make.

I have no problem with locking the mentally incapable away where they cannot hurt others. But I do have a problem with the government's ability to identify such people. If there is any lesson to be learned from the horrors of the 20th century it is that government bureaucracies tend to be populated by clueless amoral morons. I have gotten my quota of (twenty Jews to Dachau) (twenty kulaks to Siberia) (twenty speeding tickets) and that is all that matters. That attitude is frightening, yet very common.

Locking up the mentally unstable sounds good on paper but its really a b*tch trying to implement in the real world. And if we really do want to try it I suggest we start with the members of Congress. I submit to you that they are, as a group, mentally unstable, dangerous, and have much more ability to do harm to society than any schizophrenic armed with an assault rifle.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Actually, we did a pretty good job of hospitalizing the mentally ill with due process safeguards before 1979.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
"Also, there is a procedure to get your gun rights back at a later time."

Ya, right. One that will be unnavigable by mere mortals. Once this goes into effect, the gun grabbers will be using to grab as many guns as they can. I also do not trust the ability of leftie physician to stay unbiased. If your a druggy, better not get help.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Overall gun crime is actually down anyway... so I read about anything as a gun grab.

1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Clayton Cramer states:
"Today, long-term commitment is really hard"

and throughout his entire essay implies that maybe we should return to the 60s and 70s when it was easy to get people committed. But to make his case he ignores WHY the ACLU fought and won to make involuntary admission to a mental hospital.

Back until the ACLU broke the industry open to the public, if the doctor felt you needed a lobotomy, you got one. Same with electro-shock therapy, or ANY treatment that was irreversible. Patient input? Zilch. Legal guardian or parent input? None. What the doctor wanted, the doctor got. There were doctors who specialized in doing quick lobotomies, demonstrating across the country how quick and easy they. And how docile the patient was afterward, with no need for medication. Pay no attention to what the lobotomy really did to the patient.

We'll leave how the mental health industry reveled in electro-shock therapy (And still does) and the damage that did to patients as an exercise to the reader. Note: EST was abused even more so than lobotomies.

The horrors of state run institutions, once the ACLU brought them to light, got the rules changes ACROSS THE COUNTRY in very short order. That's how bad it was, and still continues to be if you lift the curtain today and look at some institutions run by the government.

For so many people who don't trust the government respect their rights as written in the Constitution are sure quick to trust their very LIFE to the very same government who has a long track record of mistreating, abusing, and even KILLING patients who are unable to care for themselves.

And its sad that people have to be intellectually dishonest to make their point by leaving out the horrors of what they're asking people to approve of and why we ran away from such institutionalized suffering in the first place.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
I have not ignored why the ACLU did what it did; I've written a book about the subject. Lobotomies were desperate measures, and when Thorazine came into use in the 1950s, were recognized as the wrong solution.

ECT is still used for treatment of some serious illnesses because it solves some problems that no other treatment does. We still don't know WHY it works (and why it sometimes does not work, and has some bad side effects).

The problem of informed consent is a serious one, but what we have done today is a different set of horrors.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
"throughout his entire essay implies that maybe we should return to the 60s and 70s when it was easy to get people committed"

No, he never implies that even once. Moving the pendulum back to a more reasonable point is I think implied, and quite reasonably, too.

This is perfectly fair criticism of the ACLU's stupidity:

"moving us back to the days before the ACLU decided that mentally ill people should enjoy the dignity of freezing to death on the streets rather than receive mental health care"
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
The whole issue of mental health and civil rights must be approached very cautiously. In the old Soviet Union, the state defined what constituted mental illness. It was an article of faith that to dissent against the ruling party was prima fascie evidence of being mentally disturbed. The result was that psychiatric hospitals became de facto political prisons, and political prisoners were deprived of due process.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Yup. But the Soviet Union was not the U.S. Mental hospital crowding was a sufficient problem (and often a disgrace) that at least from what I can find from both reading court cases and interviewing those who worked in those institutions, those who were there were seriously mentally ill.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Of course they were, The Soviet state defined them as such, end of argument.

The point is, if it is the state that defines mental illness, it becomes another way oif depriving perfectly sane people of their civil rights.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
As long as the state defines felonies, it becomes another way of depriving law-abiding people of their civil rights.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
I would say this might be a solution, except...

I suspect that if Left Wing Extremists (and psychiatrists that support them, which may be all of them) decide that this is an effective way to disarm the populace, then anyone & everyone will b liable to be declared mentally unstable and dangerous.

See the IRS for recent examples of political opponents being declared enemies of the state or targeted for criminal harassment by our traitorous government bureaucrats.

You can't meet these people halfway because they can't be trusted with power.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
"Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety." Benjamin Franklin February 17, 1775
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
I daresay Benjamin Franklin never met anyone like Adam Lanza.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
I should think that Franklin and others of his day were able to carry armaments to defend against such persons, without being considered odd.

I also have to wonder how society dealt with people of such mentally distressed states in those times.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Being armed for self-defense against the mentally ill is a solution. It is not the best solution, but it is better than none at all. But even in Franklin's day, the hazards associated with mental illness and violent crime were recognized, and there are people being locked up for their own good, and the society as a whole. Franklin even writes about this as being a reason for the formation of the Philadelphia Hospital.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Ben Franklin helped establish Philadelphia's first mental hospital, and because of the danger to self and others that the serious mentally ill represented. I have written a book on the subject. An ounce of experience beats a pound of theory.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
You have no evidence of that. Franklin got around, and met tons of people in several different countries. It's entirely conceivable that he met persons far more mentally disturbed than Adam Lanza.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Certainly. And such people were hospitalized, for the good of the society and for their own good.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Not in Franklin's day. Better che ck out the history
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
I have. You are simply wrong.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Unless he ran into someone engaged in gnawing off their own fingers on the street, I think it's it's unlikely he met a more disturbed person than Adam Lanza.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
The point is you don't know who he met or how badly disturbed they might have been. There were plenty of mentally disturbed people in Franklin's time and no psychiatric hospitals at all. Crazy people were simply thrown into Hell-holes like Bedlam, and left to rot in those days.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Not quote true. Franklin helped establish the first mental hospital in Philadelphia because there were mentally ill people who were a danger to self and others.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Actually, it was the work of the Society of Friends and wasn't established until 1751. There was another in Williamsburg, VA a few years later. Franklin had nothing to do with them. They were "hospitals" in name only, their primary purpose being to incarcerate the insane.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
You are simply wrong. The Philadelphia Hospital was founded largely because of Franklin's efforts. See http://books.google.com/books?id=WXMhAQAAMAAJ&pg=RA4-PA51&dq=Benjamin+Franklin+Philadelphia+Hospital&hl=en&sa=X&ei=sAXVUYTlKer6igLBnoHQAg&ved=0CD4Q6AEwAg#v=onepage&q=Benjamin%20Franklin%20Philadelphia%20Hospital&f=false

See http://books.google.com/books?id=YYo8AAAAcAAJ&pg=PA3&dq=Benjamin+Franklin+Philadelphia+Hospital&hl=en&sa=X&ei=sAXVUYTlKer6igLBnoHQAg&ved=0CE4Q6AEwBQ#v=onepage&q=Benjamin%20Franklin%20Philadelphia%20Hospital&f=false for Franklin's own account, including the discussion of confinement of the mentally ill.

Individual asylums, often run by the family of the insane person, were present in 17th century America. My book has a number of examples of such. Of course, mental hospitals were common in Britain well before then.

You simply do not know anything about the subject.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
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