Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Anger, violent thoughts: Are you too sick to own a gun?

Mike Groll / AP
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo signs New York's Secure Ammunition and Firearms Enforcement Act into law.
If there’s one thing Republicans and Democrats can agree on, it’s that mentally ill people should not have access to firearms.

But as lawmakers rush to restrict that access in the wake of recent mass shootings, mental health experts warn of unintended consequences: from gun owners avoiding mental health treatment to therapists feeling compelled to report every patient who expresses a violent thought.

“Many patients express some idea of harm to other people, everything from, ‘I wish I could rip my boss limb from limb,’ to, ‘I have a gun and want to blow that guy away,’” said Paul Applebaum, director of the Division of Law, Ethics, and Psychiatry at Columbia University.

Therapists usually interpret this sort of talk as part of the treatment process, experts say. But under a new law in New York, one of the strongest to be passed to date, therapists may feel compelled to report every instance of violent talk, lest they face legal consequences if something happens. And some say ordinary patients may wind up suffering the most.

“There’s one group of people who are gun owners who may reasonably or unreasonably think, ‘I’m not going anywhere near a mental health person, because if they misinterpret something I say as an indication I’m going to hurt myself or someone else, they’re going to report me and take away my guns,’” Applebaum said.

Several polls conducted since the shooting in Newtown, Conn., have found widespread support for new legislation that would restrict the possession of firearms by the mentally ill, as well as for increased government spending on mental health.

Federal law already bars the sale or transfer of firearms to a person who is known or thought to have been “adjudicated as a mental defective.” In addition, at least 44 states currently have their own laws regulating possession of firearm by mentally ill individuals, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. But not enough states report their mental health data to the federal government, rendering the federal law largely toothless.

'Not taking any chances'

New York’s expanded gun law signed by Cuomo on January 15 goes further than most state laws in that it requires mental health professionals to report any person considered “likely to engage in conduct that would result in serious harm to self or others” to local health officials. Those officials would be authorized to report that person to law enforcement, which could seize the person’s firearms.

Previously, New York judges could compel seriously mentally ill people thought to be dangerous to receive involuntary outpatient treatment.

“I see it very frequently,” Steven Dubovsky, a professor of psychiatry at the University of Buffalo, said of patients expressing violent fantasies. “You see people who struggle with anger or have violent thoughts, and if I thought they were going to act on it right away, I would stop them.”

“Now if you’re mistaken, you’re wrong about this, and you don’t report it, you could face criminal sanctions. I’m not taking any chances at that point,” Dubovsky said. That could encourage therapists to over-report, he said.
Rep. Rob Barber, who was critically wounded alongside Rep. Gabby Giffords, talks about his task force to provide advice on mental health issues to prevent gun-related violence.
There have been cases where better enforcement of laws already on the books might have helped avoid bloodshed, said Richard J. Bonnie, a professor at University of Virginia’s law school. Bonnie headed a state commission on mental health law in the wake of the mass shooting at Virginia Tech.

Shooter Seung-Hui Cho, who killed 32 people and then himself at the university in 2007, should have been adjudicated as mentally defective following a special justice’s order issued two years before the shooting, Bonnie said. Such a designation, properly reported, would have disqualified him from owning a gun under existing federal law.

But that message never got passed on to the feds or Virginia Tech, Bonnie said.

Shoring up the flaws in mental health reporting to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System – something Obama addressed in his proposals – would help prevent future mistakes, Bonnie said. Obama also called for background checks to be required on all firearm purchases – currently only 7 states account for 98 percent of the names prohibited for reasons of mental illness in the NICS database, according to Mayors Against Illegal Guns.

According to DJ Jaffe, executive director of the Mental Illness Policy Org, which advocates on behalf of the seriously mentally ill, all the talk of mental health and gun violence obscures a bigger issue – a nationwide struggle with how to care for the mentally ill.

“Most of the things they’re discussing are totally irrelevant to helping people with serious mental illness,” Jaffe said. “No one wants responsibility for the seriously mentally ill.”

Related stories:
Support soars for tougher gun laws, surveys show

Jump to discussion page: 1 2 3 ... 48

A sixteen-year-old victim of abuse talks to a school psychologist because she feels suicidal. The doctor reports this to the State, and she is uploaded into a database prohibiting her from buying a gun in the future (she cannot buy one yet anyway due to her age, but she could buy one when she turns eighteen.). Ten years later, at 26 years old, she is no longer depressed, no longer suicidal, has fully recovered from the abuse, and is a healthy, productive member of society. Now she can't buy a gun because... well, she has "a history of mental illness"? Furthermore, if she tries and is turned down, not even knowing whether she was put into the database, she will be prosecuted for trying to buy a gun? I dunno, that just seems crazy to me, pardon the pun. It's making a victim of the victim twice over, ya know what I mean, Vern?
  • 283 votes
#1 - Sat Jan 19, 2013 5:37 AM EST

I agree. This may prevent people that could be treated for mental illness from seeking the assistance they need. Hopefully something is included that would allow a person to be deemed "cured" or "treated" so they are not permanently punished for seeking help.
  • 106 votes
#1.1 - Sat Jan 19, 2013 5:51 AM EST

“Government exists to protect us from each other. Where government has gone beyond its limits is in deciding to protect us from ourselves.” ~ Ronald Reagan
  • 154 votes
#1.2 - Sat Jan 19, 2013 6:07 AM EST

Newest round of firearms laws are a knee jerk reaction to the shootings, without thinking the laws thru. Example NY has a limit of 7 bullets in a gun, they forgot to exempt police.
  • 159 votes
#1.3 - Sat Jan 19, 2013 6:10 AM EST

... I dunno, that just seems crazy to me, pardon the pun. It's making a victim of the victim twice over, ya know what I mean, Vern?
or if she joins the FBI and the FBI gives her a gun...Is the FBI above the law? In other words, do government agency have to check mental health records at every mental health institution before issueing a gun to the agent? Who's vern anyway? I can't find any more post before yours :P
  • 29 votes
#1.4 - Sat Jan 19, 2013 6:29 AM EST

Comment author avatarpatter123Expand Comment Comment collapsed by the community

Comment author avatardeprogrammerExpand Comment Comment collapsed by the community

I agree. This may prevent people that could be treated for mental illness from seeking the assistance they need. Hopefully something is included that would allow a person to be deemed "cured" or "treated" so they are not permanently punished for seeking help.
This is the conundrum this whole disaster creates.
How many therapists are going to be willing to deem someone is "cured" or "treated"?
If someone is diagnosed as unstable to own a firearm and then is deemed cured, what happens if that person creates another Aurora, Newtown or just shoots at one person and misses? Who is responsible then, the patient, the therapist or both?
You know in our embarrassingly litigious society the therapist will be dragged through the legal system as being complicit to the crime. After a few hundred such cases, how many therapists will be willing to certify a patient stable to own a firearm? How much will the malpractice insurance go up on each and every psychiatrist, psychologist and mental health therapist? All this cost will trickle down to each and every one of us. Will that added cost guarantee societies safety?
Predicting human behavior is impossible. Predicting violence is even more unpredictable.
  • 119 votes
#1.7 - Sat Jan 19, 2013 6:41 AM EST

You are so correct JimSpence.
  • 28 votes
#1.8 - Sat Jan 19, 2013 6:45 AM EST

Lets face it !!!!
The biggest responsibility for the weapons falls on the owner. The weapons should have trigger locks on them. Also should be stored in a safe with a combo lock and only the owner knows the combo. Those two things alone will cut down on some of the gun deaths. Granted this is not fool proof but is at least a start. As for background checks . I am all for it. Mental health issues are a can of worms for sure. But should be looked into anyway. The sale of weapons at gun shows should be looked at also. The buyer should provide a valid license or carry permit to purchase a weapon at the show or submit to a background check at that time in all states. These suggestions are a better starting point than doing nothing or blowing smoke to make the public feel good.
  • 18 votes
#1.9 - Sat Jan 19, 2013 6:47 AM EST

Comment author avatarOBAMA the CowardExpand Comment Comment collapsed by the community
So Cuomo must report every gang banger in New York and take away their guns!!! YIPPEE!
  • 61 votes
#1.10 - Sat Jan 19, 2013 6:59 AM EST

The thing is, mental health IS the issue-along with the frustration and anger that's so prevalent in this country today-ignore it and you ignore the problem. No one of sound mind walks into a school, movie theater or any other public place and starts shooting everyone in sight. Without addressing this aspect, all the bans on specific guns, clips, ammo etc. are nothing but feel-good legislation-they will not stop anybody from obtaining what they need to do whatever they set out to do.
  • 56 votes
#1.11 - Sat Jan 19, 2013 7:01 AM EST

is anyone feeling "safe" about these proposals? is this where we want our country to go? how many people will be infringed on by this "crazy" proposal? MOST of our gun violence is gang related and yet we choose NOT TO ADDRESS THAT? i think crazy people should not have guns,are we going to leave it up to a doctor( i use that term lightly),that most of the time makes improper diagnoses and drugs the patient,rather then come up with some reliable form of TAKING CARE of the patients problem(they drugged my daughter,when ALL that was needed was stability at her moms,and punishment when due) she is now "back to normal behavior" because she is being disciplined equally at BOTH PLACES.these guys are NOT QUALIFIED to tie my SHOES! and they should have the ability to do what? stupid proposal at best!
  • 45 votes
#1.12 - Sat Jan 19, 2013 7:04 AM EST

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