“We should keep guns out of the hands of the mentally ill.” This is a refrain we here again and again after every tragic shooting in America. I heard this refrain the other day from Mayor Duke Bennett of Terre Haute.
While I don’t disagree that guns in the hands of some mentally ill persons is a danger—I got to thinking about two questions: 1) Who is mentally ill? and 2) Who DECIDES who is mentally ill?
These might seem like questions with obvious answers, but they are not. For instance: “Who is mentally ill?” Some might answer “Psychotics” or “Schizophrenics.” But why stop there? The Diagnostic Manual also classifies other conditions as a mental illness—such as some serious forms of depression, anxieties, severe personality disorders and others. When we add up all these individuals we have a lot of people who should not buy guns if what the mayor and many others say is right.
Besides that, however, is the fact that most schizophrenic or seriously depressed persons never kill anyone.
The second question — “Who decides who is mentally ill?”– is also a tough one. Most Americans never see a mental health professional, and sometimes even people under care commit violent acts. If most people are not under professional care who should determine who can buy a gun? Should we leave it up to the intuition of the clerk at the gun shop?
The fact is that responses such as “we need to keep guns out of the hands of the mentally ill” is a glib, meaningless response and is a dodge to divert our attention from the issues of guns and race.
The question about access to guns is now, once again, being talked about, but so far, little is being done on that front.