“The Problem isn’t Guns it’s Mental health.”


(Yes, I’ve used this picture before.)

A common response to more gun control in the wake of high-profile shootings is to claim that the problem isn’t guns, but mental health.   We need to work on the mental health issue and leave the guns alone.  There’s more than a little truth to that.  I have, indeed, talked about the need to address mental health issues as part of a comprehensive approach to crime and violence.

But there are issues as well.  Like all simplistic “fixes” it can be as much problem as solution.  The problem I have with this new clarion call about mental health as the “cause” of violence is this:

Not. All. Mental. Health. Issues. Are. The. Same.

Only a tiny fraction of mental health issues lead to a propensity for violence in some individuals.  See “tiny fraction” and “some individuals”?  Most people with most mental health problems are no more a threat than anyone else.  But when people talk mental health in connection with curbing violence, either in general or in the specific case of gun violence, they tend to use a very broad brush indeed.  The details, and nuance, get lost in the rush for quick, simple “fixes.”

The push in some quarters is for broad expansion of “prohibited persons” to people with mental health problems of all types. This has two immediately apparent bad effects: 1) denying rights to people who should not have their rights denied and 2) creating an incentive for people who have problems to not seek help for fear of losing their rights.

So, while I can agree with the basic concept that the person and their particular characteristics (including some mental health issues), I fear the execution is going to be another rights grab, another excuse to deny the common individual their rights.

Quite frankly, allowing the government to set “mental health” qualifications for the exercise of rights has never gone well.  Never.  The temptation is there to use it as a means to shut down the rights of anyone not in favor with those in power.  And sooner, rather than later, those in power give in to that temptation.  There’s a reason why “nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process of law” made the top ten “don’t do it” list of the Bill of Rights.  The bar against depriving someone of their rights is high.  It’s supposed to be.  The arbitrary power to do so without strong protections against abuse leads to tyranny always.  If not with any current administration (after all, they’d only take those powers if they have the purest motives, right?) then in one soon to follow.  And governments are not so easily induced to relinquish powers once they’ve grabbed them.

And it doesn’t matter whether it’s coming from the “right” or the “left”, a rights grab is a rights grab and a power grab is a power grab.

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