LETTER: Gun control needed across nationOutlawing assault-type weapons may not be sufficient to achieve gun control. Most of the recent mass shootings were committed by persons who were mentally ill. We must find a way to prevent such mentally unstable persons from having access to guns.
To the Editor:
Outlawing assault-type weapons may not be sufficient to achieve gun control. Most of the recent mass shootings were committed by persons who were mentally ill. We must find a way to prevent such mentally unstable persons from having access to guns.
Current commitment laws make it extremely difficult to hospitalize mentally ill persons against their will, unless there is clear evidence that they will harm either themselves or others. Without a record of commitment, authorities will have no knowledge of the mental status of an applicant for a gun permit.
Recently a Minnesota psychiatrist, Dr. John E. Simon, has come up with an idea that may provide at least a partial solution for this problem, (Letter to the Editor, Minneapolis Star Tribune, January 2013). He proposes that Federal privacy laws be changed to make physicians and other health care providers mandatory reporters of suspected mental illness, just as they are right now mandated to report suspected child abuse.
A checkbox could be provided in the patient’s electronic medical record which asks: “Is this patient safe to purchase firearms?” If the “no” box is checked, it would automatically by reported to a general database which could be accessed by police or gun dealers when a gun license is requested. If the patient’s condition improves, the “yes” box would be checked and this change reported to the database.
I would think it would also be possible to make commitment laws less rigid, so that families, friends or employers who have evidence of repeated mentally disturbed behavior could have a person hospitalized at least for an initial assessment and diagnosis.
There have recently been some tragic incidents where a family which could no longer cope with a mentally ill family member asked to have the person hospitalized only to have admission refused because they person did not meet the strict commitment criteria. One such person then killed his sister, her husband and the couple’s three children.
Perhaps mandatory reporting should be available to some non-medical personnel, such as teachers or employers. It might have prevented the mass killings by the graduate student who was kicked out of the university and denied admission to a Ph.D. program because of his disturbed behavior.
We also need to provide more school counselors and school psychologists and make sure that teachers and school principals have at least some basic knowledge of the symptoms of mental illness. Some years ago a 15-year-old shot to death his parents and three of his classmates. Sometime before this he stood up in class and shouted, “God damn it, those voices in my head!” He was sent to the principal’s office and punished with suspension for swearing.
We also need to do a better job of preventing criminals from owning guns. There should be a nation-wide database of offenders that will be easily accessed by even the smallest police station.
I think there is much we can do to improve gun control in this country while still protecting the rights of gun owners. Let’s hope that the NRA will finally see the wisdom of supporting common sense gun control legislation.