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Gun Control and the Definition of Insanity

Rather than address mental illness, they offer to-be-defeated gun bills again and again.

Clayton E. Cramer


September 19, 2013 - 12:10 pm

The aphorism everyone knows — “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results” — is cute, but it doesn’t have anything to with mental illness. Or does it? The gun control fanatics who dominate the media keep pushing for passage of the same laws again and again, with almost no success. Maybe it’s time to try something different?

The attack at the Navy Yard on Monday was first considered to possibly involve “three active shooters,” then two, then one. As the number decreased, so did the probability of it being a terrorist attack. The likelihood that a mentally ill killer was on a rampage rose.

The first reports claimed at least one of the shooters had an AR-15. Then there were reports of an AR-15 plus a shotgun and a handgun. CNN posted an article — obviously one prepared ahead of time for such an occasion — about the evils of the AR-15 and the arguments for banning guns like it. The article was soon edited with a peculiar opening added: no AR-15; the shooter arrived with a shotgun and acquired two handguns by killing law enforcement officers responding to his attack. But CNN left the remainder of the article up: “Regardless, the massacre pushed the AR-15 back into the gun-control debate.”

Even the shotgun that the shooter bought turned out to be a rather ordinary hunting shotgun (although many police departments use a version of it as a riot gun). Nor did the killer have an unusual or “arsenal” quantity of ammunition; he had only purchased 24 shells. What law could a gun control fanatic come up with to push following a crime like this? A ban on pump-action shotguns like the Remington 870 would struggle for 15 votes in the House. Perhaps a limit on shell purchases somewhere arbitrarily below 24?

Yet gun control fanatics speak up after each one of these tragedies, peddling laws that are slight variations on the same ideas: ban private sales (even though the vast majority of these mass murders involve stolen guns, and the guns used in Aurora, the Navy Yard, and the Giffords shootings were legally purchased from licensed dealers); and ban “assault weapons” (irrelevant at the Navy Yard).

The enduring idea behind these efforts is that the core problem is some guns. Yet they continue to avoid addressing the logical question perhaps because the answer might be painful: what are the common characteristics of the people committing these crimes?

The Navy Yard shooter was suffering from some kind of mental illness involving paranoia, sleep disorders, “voices in his head,” and bizarre fears about people trying to send vibrations into his body through motel room walls.

The Aurora shooter — whose psychiatrist was concerned enough to contact police before the murders — suffers from schizophrenia. The man who shot Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords suffers from schizophrenia. The symptoms ascribed to the Navy Yard shooter are a close match for schizophrenia.

Indeed, schizophrenia or similar psychoses appear to be a factor in most of these mass murders.

Compared to a focus on guns in the hands of ordinary people who are not particularly dangerous, a focus on the common characteristic of these mass murders — severe mental illness – is the more logical approach. If gun control fanatics want to affect a real reduction in these quite rare but horrifying crimes, they should start identifying specific actions to take regarding mental illness and firearms. They would have no problem getting support from everyone besides the ACLU.

More mental hospital beds are important. Professor Steven P. Segal’s 2011 study demonstrated that you can reduce murder rates simply by making more psychiatric beds available.

Making it easier to involuntarily commit people with serious mental illness problems matters even more: 27% of the state-to-state variation in murder rates can be explained by this difference alone.

Fixing the broken system for reporting of involuntary commitments would help a lot.  Most states are still not reporting involuntary commitments to the national background check system, or are reporting so few that they might as well not bother. Someone who is involuntarily committed in, say, California can no longer pass the background check system there – but this person can simply move to another state. The national background check system will not know about that involuntary commitment in California.

Unfortunately, some of the most fiercely anti-gun states — like Massachusetts and California — are dragging their feet on a reporting requirement. This matters, because people with serious paranoia problems seem to move around a lot.

What was the last success the gun control movement had at the national level? Reforms to the current background check system relative to mental illness passed in 2007 after Virginia Tech, with the support of the NRA.

If the gun control movement really wants to do something about these tragedies, why do they keep banging their head against the wall with proposals that cannot seem to pass even with a monstrous, heart-wrenching tragedy like Newtown in play?

They should focus on the core problem here: people with serious mental illness who need hospitalization, even if it is involuntary.

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   
How would an acceptable statute define "serious mental illness" without leaving lots of wiggle room for interpretation?

Legislation that becomes law commonly leaves much to various administrative agencies; the phrase "and such other * * * as the Administrator (or Secretary or Director or whatever) may decide" has become very common; ObamaCare is only one example of many.

Were legislation to pass and become law with wiggle room of that sort, how many sane people -- who show no indications that they even conceivably might go around shooting firearms at others -- but who have opined that the Government is a mess, or that President Obama is a bad President, or who favor lower taxes, the repeal/defunding of ObamaCare, etc. would be deemed to have a "serious mental illness" and be confined involuntarily and subjected to involuntary "treatment?"

I would be concerned even if there were meaningful provisions for "prompt" judicial review of confinement and associated treatments. Even a need to seek judicial review in those circumstances would leave a significant infringement of our First (and second) Amendment rights.

There is a tendency to jump too hastily, and hence without much consideration of the potential consequences, when there is a "crisis too good to waste."
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment

It's simple really. The gun control crowd doesn't give a crap about gun control, they really only care about control.

History has illustrated that the path to fully subjugating a populous, is to first disarm them.

The progressive left is like a slow growing cancer. They will continue to hammer away at the issue until they make a little ground. They will then change their objective to even more restrictions and hammer away until they meet those objectives. Rinse, lather, repeat.

Surely, you say, they won't be successful in the good ole US of A when it comes to taking our 2nd amendment rights away.

Ask those who oppose gay marriage, an oxymoron, when asked 20 years ago why it wasn't necessary to pass federal laws to forever quantify marriage as between one man and one woman and they DID say - Gay marriage will never be accepted in the good ole US of A!

The progs will simply wait us out.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Because it's a ratchet effect. They'll keep trying and trying until they get one through. And then it never, ever, ever, goes back.

Then they try again for just a little bit more of a restriction. Again and again, until it clicks. Not a slipper slope, just a slow, steady, and effective ratchet.

1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
All Comments   (36)
All Comments   (36)
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The problem is that Psychiatry is a pseudo-science. There are no scientifically verifiable measures of sanity or normalcy; only a book of negotiated diagnoses to facilitate medical insurance compensation for 'services rendered'.

This is 'thin ice' for compromising anyone's inalienable rights.

The Constitution is quite clear that government is denied authority to infringe the right of the people to keep and bear arms; without caveats.

History indicates that the threat is exacerbated by establishing clearly defined zones where those present are un-Constitutionally prohibited from bearing arms: making them easy targets for cowards in search of notoriety. "Gun Free Zone" designation is the single common link joining all multi-victim gun violence events.

It doesn't get any easier than outlawing "Gun Free Zones". History suggests that this would be more effective than any gun control measure.

200 channel 24/7 publicity focusing on the perpetrator and their cowardly act is also counter productive to reducing gun violence. "Murderer" or "lunatic" is all the descriptor necessary to reference the perpetrator(s).

Guns necessarily represent the threat of deadly force, even if not fired during the commission of a crime. Trials and justice should be swift. Using arms to perpetrate a crime should be a capital offense: public hanging should be within 30 days of conviction.
51 weeks ago
51 weeks ago Link To Comment
what comes around goes around and CNN is laying thre groundwork for its reputation to be sullied with the increasing "mistakes" in reporting gun use. This is the second or third time since the Connecticut school massacre that CNN has "tripped up".
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Democrats and their ideological cohorts have no shame using high sounding and seemingly noble and wise positions to effect an Agenda.

Fixation on gun control may well be more about the control than the guns.

"Those who hammer their guns into plows will plow for those who do not."
~Thomas Jefferson

(a good line, tho' disputed whether or not TJ actually said or wrote it)
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Or, to put it another way:

"There are 2 kinds of men in the world: those with guns, and those who dig." - Clint Eastwood in "the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly"
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Dianne Feinstein's obsessiveness on guns is particularly irritating, a 122 page bill in January (can any of these people write legislation in 10 pages) with categories and sub categories and this weapon's lethality v. that weapon's lethality, on and on. Feinstein's imperiousness and assumption that she knows best for you and for society at large are unbecoming in a United States Senator, although not uncommon.

"Guns are making us crazy" (satire alert)

Will last night's 13 shootings (including a 3 YO boy) in a South side Chicago park get the same press and attention as the Navy Yard ?
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Democrats, Feinstein in particular, seem ready to commit to either insane asylums or to prison anyone who doesn't agree with their thinking, i.e., their control.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
There is no blood test, CAT scan, MRI or ANY other definitive way of positively diagnosing mental illnesses, so it comes down to a mental health worker's (or psychiatrist's) opinion when assessing symptoms against a list of behaviors that their professional organizations constantly fiddle with. Are we naive enough to believe that mental health "professionals" will all act in good faith when they are the final arbiters in whether or not we are allowed to own a gun? Are we naive enough to believe that the gun grabbers won't seize on this as a golden opportunity to ban firearms? Once a person is diagnosed with a "mental illness" there is no way of validating that he/she has been cured so it becomes a life sentence. Are we willing to accept THAT outcome as a society?

Would there be any limits on WHICH mental illnesses would preclude gun ownership? People on this board continually mention schizophrenia, but what about more common forms of "mental" illnesses such as clinical depression or ADHD. Would these also come with a lifetime firearms ban as well? Remember that these conditions are NOT diagnosed with laboratory tests and once you have them there is NO cure.

Finally, there is a developing body of evidence that certain anti-depressant medicines (specifically SSRIs) have been positively linked with violent and/or suicidal behavior. Practically nothing is being said and nothing done about the potential role these medications play in mass killings. Why? Because there is really big money involved both in profits for the drug companies and contributions to our politicians. But you can't have a valid discussion about mental illness without including the drugs used to treat it because they have been proven to be extremely dangerous to some patients and the public alike.

I am pleased that the discussion about violence is now including mental illnesses, but there is plenty of opportunity for those who wish to ban firearms totally to abuse the approach and I expect them to look at this as an opportunity to do so.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
"Finally, there is a developing body of evidence that certain anti-depressant medicines (specifically SSRIs) have been positively linked with violent and/or suicidal behavior... really big money involved both in profits for the drug companies and contributions to our politicians."

SSRI's, prescribed and popped like candy, are big, BIG bizness. Really revolting and a further reflection of our society's weakness.

And don't let me fail to mention Ritalin for children in the same context.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
This may be of no significance, but I doubt that he purchased 24 shotgun shells. They are normally sold in either boxes of five or twenty five. It is barely possible that a store had an open partial box, but not very likely.
Probably not a big deal, but the sort of odd datum that almost invariably runs through stories like this. Which is why I always question every detail until it's been corroborated by multiple sources.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Mr. Cramer - the point many are missing is the true motivation and goal of the gun grabber crowd: they do not care about reasons, facts, statistics, or especially common sense...THEY WANT TO OUTLAW ALL GUNS - PERIOD. That's it, nothing else, they will lie, misrepresent and distort, whatever they feel is necessary....but, dammit, BAN ALL GUNS - PERIOD.
They cannot be negotiated with; they must be defeated. They are useful tools for the marxists/commies and legitimate enemies of the lovers of freedom and liberty.

Remember BENGHAZI!
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
What needs to be emphasized is WHY gun-grabbers want to outlaw guns, and you said it in your closing sentence: the enemies of freedom and liberty - socialists and commies - need to turn the common folk into defenseless serfs. (I seem to have accidentally "reported" my own comment.)
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
The Left refuses to address the mental health aspects of such trajedies because they agree with the basic idea behind the current approach to mental health: The U.S. is a Sick Society and normal healthy people are being driven insane.

The Sick Society approach is the basis for their desire to change all and control everything - and just incidently garner immense personal power and privaledge for themsleves as well.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Read the U.S. Constitution and its supporting history. The main, if not the only, purpose of the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution is to enable the citizens to suppress the federal, state, or any government from subjugating them.
The Founding Fathers knew exactly what they were doing.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
They go after guns in the hands of all of us instead of dealing with mental illness, because they care far less about stopping mass killings than they do about hoi pollloi having access to weapons. Hoi polloi with weapons is so aesthetically displeasing.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
For many of the gun control fanatics, this is true. My goal is separate the well meaning but not very understanding sorts from the fanatics.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
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