In the growing debate surrounding the natural right to self-defense, one of the most popular proposed methods of gun control has been restrictions on gun-ownership for those who are deemed to be mentally ill. This is a measure that is often suggested by liberals and conservatives alike, but it is important to stop and consider what something like this might entail.
When any collective group is banned from owning a gun, they are effectively turned into second-class citizens. In the case of mental illness, that classification is so vague and open to interpretation that it could possibly be applied to over half of the population, depending on which criteria you use.
Mental illness can be very hard to identify since there is no kind of official test for most conditions, most people are diagnosed according to the subjective opinions of the doctors that observe them. Even the most severe conditions, like schizophrenia, can be very difficult to identify and is often misdiagnosed.
Psychiatric drugs are another possible factor that could get someone marked by the government as mentally unstable, but a classification like this would allow for large portions of the US population to be disarmed.
According to a 2016 study by JAMA Internal Medicine, more than 1 in 6 Americans are on some type of psychiatric drug. This is not to mention the large number of people who report symptoms of depression or anxiety and don't take medication.
A policy like this could also allow the government to disarm dissidents and political enemies. As psychiatry became more influential towards the middle of the 20th century, rulers around the world began using "mental illness" as an excuse to lock away anyone who might disagree with them. The Soviet regime became notorious for this practice by labeling all political dissidents as "mentally ill" so they could be locked away in institutions where they were no threat to the establishment.
The United States government also has a long history of slapping unruly citizens with the mark of mental illness. President Franklin Roosevelt famously called his detractors "the lunatic fringe,” and this type of attitude towards activists has carried on in the halls of government to this day.
In the dictionary of mental illnesses, known as DSM-5, published by the American Psychiatric Association, there is actually a condition listed for people who have a problem with authority. Oppositional Defiant Disorder is a name that psychiatrists made up to identify children who won't do what they are told, and now even adults are being diagnosed with this condition as well.
Meanwhile, politicians and mainstream media are quick to label anyone who questions the official narrative as a "conspiracy theorist," a term that has been falsely associated with mental illness in pop culture.
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A study in 2017 set out to determine whether or not believing in conspiracy theories was a form of mental illness. As expected they found the exact answer that they were looking for, people who don't trust the government and mainstream media are crazy, and suffering from something called illusory pattern perception.
There is another dilemma that arises in the discussion of disarming people who are accused of having a mental illness, and that is the fact mentally ill people are 10 times more likely to be victims of violence than the rest of society because they are often seen as easy targets.
Complicating matters further is the fact that these people can't depend on the police to help them in these situations, as studies have shown that the mentally ill are 16 times more likely to be killed by a police officer than the average person.
According to the Virginia-based Treatment Advocacy Center, a minimum of 1 in 4 fatal police encounters ends the life of an individual with severe mental illness.
To prevent mentally ill people from owning firearms is a severe form of "ableist" discrimination, and also opens the door for nearly anyone to be classified as mentally ill.
There are sometimes extreme cases where a person's mental instability is creating a dangerous situation for the community, like the recent Parkland shooting, for example. In this case, the shooter had a known history of violence, regularly made threats and was visited by police on numerous occasions because of his threatening behavior. In cases like this, it is reasonable to keep an eye on someone, restrict their access to firearms, or possibly quarantine them from society in the most extreme situations.
There are many laws on the books currently would have allowed the FBI or local police to intervene in their initial encounters with the shooter, but they decided that a student known for violent outbursts and talking about carrying out school shootings was not worth looking into.
As TFTP reported earlier this month, there is a law on the books known as the Extreme Risk Protection Order or ERPO, which went into effect in June of 2017. This law is used when a person is considered an “extreme” threat as reported by police and family members. An ERPO must be approved by a judge and only after this person is proven to be a danger to themselves or others can police move in to confiscate their weapons.
These types of targeted approaches specifically aimed at individuals who are a known source of violence in the community would do far more to prevent tragedies from happening, than a wide-reaching law that could threaten the rights and safety of millions of innocent gun owners.