Once again, in the wake of another senseless mass murder with an assault rifle, there is renewed talk about more laws limiting the sale and possession of guns. I support some of them. Nobody needs a high-powered weapon that shoots 100 or more rounds a minute. It is not something you would take to the woods to hunt deer, only to resist or attempt an invasion.
The gun control talk includes proposed laws to keep guns away from people with a “history of mental illness.” I testified against such a law in the NH Legislature a couple of years ago, and would again tomorrow, just days after the latest abomination.
I felt strange in that witness chair, opposing my state Senator Sylvia Larson (D), senate president and one of the leading progressives in my state, whom I usually agree with on issues. I agreed instead with the “usual suspects” in the 2nd Amendment, absolute gun rights crowd, who usually make me nervous.
But the “gunnies” were right about one thing this one time:
Sen. Larson, and the “mothers against guns” group supporting this law, really want to take guns away from everybody, or as many people as possible. They know they don’t have enough political support to do that, so they go after the low-hanging fruit.
On this issue, no fruit hangs lower than people with a history of mental illness – “mental defectives,” as Sen. Larson — a social worker by trade — called us over and over and over in her testimony in favor of her bill. (She opened that statement saying her bill does not stigmatize people with mental illness.)
We’re easy targets because people are already scared of us, and think we’re all dangerous time bombs that could explode anywhere, anytime, for no reason.
Just this morning (Dec. 18) on public radio, a talk show panelist raised an objection to gun laws aimed at people with mental health histories very similar to the one I raised to Sen. Larson’s bill:
There is no test or objective way to predict who might become violent. “A history of mental illness” is much too broad a definition, he said, and many people who open fire randomly with assault rifles have no documented history of emotional problems at all.
Sen. Larson’s bill, which was copied from a model written by a national gun control group, narrowed the definition of what they called “mental defectives” to anyone who was ever released from a psychiatric facility on a conditional discharge, or ever had a guardian appointed.
One third of the patients released from NH’s psychiatric hospital are given conditional discharges, intended to create consequences for failing to cooperate with outpatient treatment after release. When the hospital or family asks the court to appoint a guardian for someone, it’s usually because the person can’t handle his own money or sign his own contracts. Very occasionally, in special circumstances, the court appoints a guardian to authorize forced treatment.
Need I say that I’m dead-set against forced treatment and outpatient commitment? That’s beside the point here. The point is that neither of those things has anything to do with a person’s potential for violence.
After being called a “mental defective” by my state senator many times in a few minutes, I told the committee, when it was my turn to speak, that “I’ve never been called a nigger, but I’ve been called a kike and a Jew-bastard and a whacko. I felt the same just now, listening to Sen. Larson call me names. You can’t tell me this bill does not stigmatize or discriminate against me and people like me,” I said.
We should ban those assault rifles for everyone (my choice), or no one, or violent felons, not just “mental defectives” like me.
Mad in America hosts blogs by a diverse group of writers. These posts are designed to serve as a public forum for a discussion—broadly speaking—of psychiatry and its treatments. The opinions expressed are the writers’ own.