Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Shrinking Options

Reading David Brooks' post-massacre column in the NYT put me in mind of a memorable patient from back in the day. Details are available; in brief, she was a young woman with prior mental health problems, living in a trailer with an older man whom she stabbed to death one day, after which she took the knife to herself, presenting with multiple stab wounds, the final one of which featuring a twelve-inch butcher knife sticking out of her chest. She recovered from life-saving surgery (fixed her heart, lung, stomach, spleen) rapidly, and as the end of her hospitalization approached, I requested a psych consult. The shrink said the woman didn't need inpatient psych care. I was surprised.

David Brooks, seeing little reason to discuss gun laws, suggested the solution to gun violence was providing such people as the Colorado shooter with mental health care. Sounding like one of those bleeding-heart liberal types, he says:
The best way to prevent killing sprees is with relationships — when one person notices that a relative or neighbor is going off the rails and gets that person treatment before the barbarism takes control. But there also has to be a more aggressive system of treatment options, especially for men in their 20s. The truly disturbed have always been with us, but their outbursts are now taking more malevolent forms.


How many times have we seen it: a mentally-ill person deemed fit for public consumption by some mental health worker or another, goes on to commit a horrible crime. I can't really blame those professionals: the fact is, far as I know, there's little or no reliable way to pick such people out of the crowd of the insane; and even fewer ways to modify their behavior, other than locking them up. Mental health care for mass murderers, in my opinion, is a sick joke of an idea.

Now I'm not stupid enough to think changing gun laws is either possible in the current climate, nor would do enough to solve the problem; nor do I kid myself into thinking that no matter what laws might be passed, the people who've armed themselves already will ever give up their guns. But for the life of me I can't see why the mere mention of attempting to keep guns out of the hands of known felons or the mentally ill leads to the kind of eye-bulging conspiracy mongering we hear from the likes of NRA president Wayne LaPierre and most of his followers.

A friend recently wrote a newspaper column on the subject. A conservative in the formerly-respectable sense of the word, a life-long NRA member, a staunch defender of gun rights for the law-abiding, a hunter, he had the temerity to suggest maybe not everyone needs assault rifles with clips that hold a hundred rounds. Needless to say, his column was met with what you might call resistance. Reading the comments to it online, I learned that the Aurora killer was, in fact, acting on orders from no less than Barack Obama and the FBI, in order to justify their impending rounding up of all guns. (Compared to what I've heard from a guy I used to know, that's hardly a non-standard deviation.) And there were the expected calls for everyone to take up arms at all times, in all places.

So as long as we're talking about things that'll never happen, let's do a thought experiment: imagine a nation where no one had guns, and another where everyone did: in which is it more likely that people would die from gun violence, accidental or intentional? What's the murder rate in countries that have laws controlling access to guns, like England and Canada, compared to that of the US? At minimum, it ought to be possible to discuss, in the most murder-prone country in the western world (excluding Mexico, maybe; but we know where it gets its guns), ways to reduce access to guns for those most prone to using them to harm innocents. And to do so without engendering the kind of fear-mongering and conspiracy-theorizing that consumes the debate at this point.

But it's not.

[Addendum: idiotically, I forgot to mention that the Colorado shooter was under psychiatric care at the time of the killing. Res ipsa loquitur.]


  1. They have Guns in May-he-co??
    But, But, thats Illlll-Legalllllll..
    Besides, I thought everyone in May-He-Co was so poor they can't even pay Attention..(thats a Southern joke)
    And I'm not sure, but I think I stood behind the citizens of an entire Mexican town at the Driver's License Office the other day, and here's the Rod-Serling-esque kicker...
    seems my birth certificate wasn't notarized, and in the "Race" blank it says "Human"
    Oh, my mom, the Kidder...
    So I had to slither back up to the counter with my electric bill, block buster card, "VIP" card from the Cheetah(you've been to Atlanta, you know)
    except in Florida, got that summer house...


  2. Doc, you are just too rational. You just make too much sense for the "average" American. What can I say?
    Me think we are both a minority species.

  3. Keeping guns out of the hands of felons and the mentally ill, that's an admirable goal, but is it actually possible? Seriously...DO you have concrete ideas on accomplishing this? Even let's forget the political climate for the moment; I wonder what your best case scenario would be.

    Everyone that walks into a gun store must submit to a background check before leaving with their new toy. It's an instant, phone-based, nationwide system called NICS; checks for criminal and psychiatric history. Did you know about this thing?

    What criteria of mental illness should be used to deny or permit ownership, where do we draw the line between depression and homicidal ideation... or do we? How to compensate for for this stigmatizing mental health issues even further?

    seems like fewer people are commenting nowadays. what's up with that?

  4. No comment on the comment comment.

    As to the rest, it's why we need a conversation without the paranoia. For starters, there's the gun-show loophole and online purchases.

    I agree it'd be harder to identify the "appropriately" mentally ill. But the NRA seems to want to quash all discussion of all measures, and our political "leaders" on both sides of the aisle cave like melting icebergs.

  5. The NRA's become a propaganda arm of the Republican Party, it really is disgusting.

    "For starters..." Oh, man!

    Alright, usually I think you're spot on. It saddens me when you start talking about guns, and I couldn't disagree more. Let's take this to email if you're interested in discussion; if not, that's alright.

    a Mike with a gun

  6. Probably no need: sounds like minds won't be changed. I don't see threats to law-abiding gun ownership in laws limited access to felons. And I don't buy the slippery slope arguments re: guns any more than I think gay marriage will lead to sex with animals.

  7. Then:

    When guns are outlawed, only criminals will have guns.


    Now guns are legalized, and every maniac has one.

    Right, Frank?

    They who sow the wind, shall reap the whirlwind!

    So now, it's reaping time in Arizona, Colorado, Texas, Florida et. al.

    Yep, that worked out well!

    Coming soon to a massacre near you: everybody pulls a gun and starts shooting at everyone else with a gun!

    It will be like a hundred car, freeway pile-up with fireworks.

    They will all say: "I was in fear, that's why I shot all those other shooters."

    The NRA will call for mandatory gun carry laws to make us all safe from being shot.

    This Teabajeesypublican crap will continue to circle the bowl, but it will never ever flush.

    And so a farewell to American greatness - gunned down by maniacal, racist idiots!


  8. Ummm
    Sid, Mike, J Prokop(Great moniker BTW), and even Eww-Gene...
    You've changed my mind, I totally agree with y'all.
    I support whatever Gun Legislation EICOTUS has submitted to Congress.


  9. @ Sid,
    hey, I think someone's hacking your blog,
    Someone claiming to be "Sid Schwab" complimented me on my comment. I can tell it's not really you cause he didn't use the T-Word.


  10. I'll look into it. Probably a teabagger.


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