Mental Illness, Civil Commitments and Gun Laws
Many years ago, in Michigan, a social worker went to visit a man who he had reportedly known for a long time. The social worker had a very good relationship with this man.
So why, on the day of this visit, did this man step out the front door and kill the socialworker on his porch with a point-blank shotgun blast to the chest? Think of all the reasons that you can identify. What could possibly explain this horrific and totally unpredicted event?
It should not come as a surprise that the killer was diagnosed with Paranoid Schizophrenia.
It is true that Schizophrenia, of any kind, infrequently leads to violence. It is also true that when such violence ocurrs, it is over- represented in the news.
However, it is essential that anyone who is thought to be mentally ill and behaving in menacing ways be provisionally committed to a secure mental health facility for evaluation. Furthermore, the standards of proof leading to such an initial civil commitment must be lowered. This has to be done for the protection of both the patient and the public at large.
As a practicing psychologist, I am legally responsible to report any indications of child abuse to the regional Department of Family and Children. I can assure you that when I must do so, this organization makes an evaluation of my report, an investigation normally ensues, and if it is deemed necessary children are placed in protective custody. I am saddened that this system sometimes fails, but it more frequently does not.
The same needs to be done in the case of apparently dangerous individuals suffering from mental disorders. Currently, the burden of proof for temporary hospitalization and evaluation is so great as to be unworkable. If a law was enforced, mandating such reports from physicians and mental health professionals to an appropriate agency for investigation and possible action, many tragedies-in-the-making could be prevented.
Please take time to review the following article about mental illness and violence. It is a well-balanced report serious and emotion-laden problem.
On a related matter, I am in full support of the 2nd amendment (Law abiding citizens may purchase and possess firearms). However, those suffering from severe mental disorders must be restricted from the ability to purchase and possess firearms.
A law mandating that health care providers in medicine and psychology, as well as various mental care facilities forward reports of seriously mentally ill patients to an appropriate federal agency that will prohibit their legal purchase and possession of firearms is essential. This can work because currently any individual seeking to legally purchase a fire arm must first be computer-checked by a federal agency. The main weakness in this system is apparently in the report mechanism to that agency.
Please review the Federal Laws on firearms purchases and possession.
I urge you to speak-out and lobby your representatives for the passage of such legislation.
V. Thomas Mawhinney, Ph.D. 1/16/11