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In the wake of the Navy Yard massacre, the argument about gun control has shifted away from background checks and now has landed on fixing the mental health system. This is my second blog on mental illness and gun violence and I’m going to write several more. But here’s my latest thoughts on the subject so follow my drift.
I am an NRA-certified trainer and, as such, spent the weekend with a group of NRA trainers qualifying in a new training certification recently developed by the NRA. Two things impressed me about the training. First was the character and caliber of the other trainers. Many are active law enforcement or military personnel, all are ‘first responders’ and would think nothing of charging into a burning building to rescue me. Second, the NRA training course, like all NRA courses, mentions gun safety and gun responsibility on every page. Anyone out there who thinks that the “average” gun owner doesn’t know and understand the basic rules of gun responsibility doesn’t know any average gun owners and certainly hasn’t been paying attention to the endless calls for gun safety voiced by the NRA.
But when it comes to moving from rhetoric to reality, in particular the issue of mental health and gun safety, the NRA’s behavior is so at odds with their own rhetoric that they seem to be suffering from a new form of organizational schizophrenia that may only be found in the gun business and perhaps Wayne LaPierre can become an expert on this type of mental illness as well. He certainly seems to be an expert on mental health issues that lead to mass shootings, at least he never misses the opportunity to call for “fixing” the mental health system as a way to eliminate the kind of tragedy that just occurred at the Navy Yard in DC.
But here’s where the schizoid behavior of the NRA sets in, because at the same time that they call for more effective ways to identify and treat the mentally ill, they’re also try to make it impossible for medical professionals to figure out whether a patient who reports mental illness symptoms, such as depression or anxiety, is a threat to engage in gun violence at all. Why? Because the NRA, believe it or not, wants to prevent physicians and other medical professionals from responding to the earliest warnings about gun violence provoked by mental illness by criminalizing any attempt to discern whether a depressed or anxious patient has access to a gun.
In 2011 the NRA backed a law passed in Florida that made it a felony for any physician to inquire about the existence of guns in the home even if the patient reported symptoms of mental distress. The rationale behind this stupidity was that such a question (not that a patient ever has to answer any question during a consultation) was an invasion of the patient’s right to privacy under the 2nd Amendment, as if the 2nd Amendment says anything about privacy at all. In the arguments before Federal Judge Marcia Cooke, the NRA-backed attorneys rolled out their ‘slippery slope’ defense which basically says that any kind of gun regulations will eventually lead to total confiscation. How do we know this is will happen? Because the NRA says it will happen.
The good news is that Judge Cooke permanently blocked the legislation, but the NRA claims it will appeal the decision to the 6th Circuit Court. But while the issue meanders through the appeals process, physicians and mental health professionals in Florida and elsewhere (similar bills sat in various state legislatures waiting to see what would happen to the Florida law) will actually have the opportunity to notify both the mental health system and the requisite law enforcement authorities when and if they learn that a gun-owning patient might do harm to himself or someone else because he exhibits or admits to mental distress. Isn’t that how we should begin to “fix” the mental health system? Sounds fairly logical to me even though mental health expert Wayne LaPierre will probably disagree.