Political Animal


December 22, 2012 1:27 PM Yet another terrible idea from the NRA

By Kathleen Geier

If it were humanly possible for the NRA to climb any higher on my personal s%^& list, they would have done so after Wayne LaPierre’s reprehensible press conference yesterday. His long, rambling monologue was full of so many vile and insanely awful ideas, it would be hard to single out the very worst one.

But since his “let’s arm everyone to the teeth” types of statements got the most play, I’m going to focus on his modest l’il proposal of “an active national database of the mentally ill.”

This is a thoroughly wretched idea for many reasons. As this very helpful New York Times article notes, the overwhelming majority of mentally ill people do not commit violent acts. Though some types of very serious psychiatric illnesses are linked to an increased risk of violence, the risk is small. Indeed, “[a]lcohol and drug abuse are far more likely to result in violent behavior than mental illness by itself.”

All right, you may say, then why don’t we just keep track of people we think might be dangerous and engage in violent behavior in the future? That, too, is not so easy:

Jeffrey Swanson, a professor of psychiatry at Duke University and a leading expert in the epidemiology of violence, said in an e-mail, “Can we reliably predict violence? ‘No’ is the short answer. Psychiatrists, using clinical judgment, are not much better than chance at predicting which individual patients will do something violent and which will not.”

Okay, so a database tracking the mentally ill is likely to prove useless for the purpose of stopping violence, that’s the first thing. But even worse, as Robert Kuttner argues in The American Prospect, is the fact that such a database would further stigmatize mental illness and deter mentally ill people from seeking the treatment they desperately need.

Kuttner writes about an acclaimed program for mentally ill teens in Portland, Maine called PIER. Teens heard about the program through public education efforts and referred themselves into it. Hospital admissions for psychotic breaks decreased dramatically as a result. Here’s the piece that relates to gun violence, writes Kuttner:

“These kids who go on gun rampages,” says [program head] McFarlane, “tend to be pre-psychotic. Most people with mental illnesses are not dangerous, but these are. They still have enough functioning to methodically plot out their attacks. They have lost capacity for judgment but not for planning.”
“At our very first family meetings,” McFarlane adds, “one of the things we emphasize is safety. Families get it. If they own guns, they either get rid of them, or lock them up.”
It may be a coincidence, but there have been no gun massacres in the communities that have programs modeled on PIER. However, referrals to Dr. McFarlane’s program and others like them are voluntary. Nobody is put into a database.

We need a well-funded health care system that does a much better job of identifying and treating mental illness. And, of course, we need to regulate guns. What we don’t need is an Orwellian surveillance state keeping tabs on anyone who ever sought the help of a mental health professional. Suffering people, who may be frightened, distrustful, or doubtful about the benefits of treatment to begin with, don’t need one more reason to avoid seeking help. The results could be tragic for themselves and those around them.

Kathleen Geier is a writer and public policy researcher who lives in Chicago. She blogs at Inequality Matters. Find her on Twitter: @Kathy_Gee


  • Rick B on December 22, 2012 2:57 PM:

    Just a modest suggestion.

    Rather than a database tracking so-called mentally ill people (absolutely nothing in the criteria listed in the DSM-IV even hints at being able to predict criminal use of firearms), it seems that a database tracking all firearms purchasers would be a lot more productive to law enforcement. It would have a much higher prediction rate of criminality, especially criminality using firearms.

    Such a database compared with a list of active NRA members would probably be even more predictive of firearms criminality.

  • schtick on December 22, 2012 3:04 PM:

    Hey, those good ol' boys getting drunk and firing off a few shots are just having some good ol' redneck fun. If some people get hurt, it's just an accident, yanno? If they ever started a database for rednecks having some drunken fun, why, almost all of them would be on it! We can't have that! Who would be left to run the country? Women? People of color? All these silly people wanting equal rights? Fair wages? And gasp! UNIONS!!!

  • c u n d gulag on December 22, 2012 3:05 PM:

    Jayzoos H. Keerist, having in his hands the NRA mailing list!

    One of the "mentally ill."
    And how do you define that?
    To many of us, wanting an endless supply of semi-automatics, with huge magazines, is a defining characteristic of one form of "mental illness."

    Let's see, a lot of gun nuts are overly anxious and scared of people who are different from them.
    Many of them are anti-social outside of close circles of family and friends, feel constantly threatened, and don't feel comfortable leaving their homes without being armed to the teeth.
    Sound like feckin' paranoia?

    And will this one be made public, too, like the sex-offender list?
    Ok, now, picture yourself moving to a new area, and trying to find a home or apartment that's not too close to either someone who is defined as "mentally ill," or another whose been convicted of some sex offence or other?
    How many areas in this country won't have at least one of the two? Or both, within a certain distance.
    Now, who would you rather live closer to, someone who is defined as being "mentally ill," or someone who has been defined as a sex offender.
    Well, maybe you could take a look at the lists, and see where you're moving from, and make a decision based on that.

    Now, after looking at that press conference, where the press wasn't allowed to ask any questions, you may think that Wayne LaPierre is "mentally ill."
    But, in my opinion, he is not "mentally ill." He is an old, rich, unprincipled, heartless lobbyist, who doesn't care about anything but his own profit, and the profits of his employers.
    Many of the people who buy the BS he and the gun and ammo manufactureres may, indeed, be considered to be "mentally ill."
    If a child in a school hits another child with a rock, do we demand that EVERY child go to school carrying rocks? That teachers must carry rocks? Principals?
    Wayne LaPiere suggesting that every school in the country have armed security, isn't a sign of "mental illness," but of greed.
    Those who take that suggestion seriously, may be showing signs of being "mentally ill."

  • c u n d gulag on December 22, 2012 3:08 PM:

    Rick B,
    A great suggestion!
    And sadly, one that will never happen...

  • riffle on December 22, 2012 3:28 PM:

    Who is more in need of self-defense and -protection than the mentally ill?

    If anyone should be heavily armed, they should!

  • Anonymous on December 22, 2012 3:32 PM:

    Guns don't kill people, they just make the killing much more efficient...

    Guns prevent violence, that's why drug dealers never get shot....

    I need a gun to protect my family, and my family won't ever need anyone to protect them from me...

    Shooting 60 rounds a minute is my right, and it all better be in one magazine, otherwise someone might have a chance to stop me...

    Guns prevent violence, that's why cops never get shot...

    We don't have to study what role guns play in violence and violent crimes, we know everything already...

    We need more guns, this would never happen if there was an armed guard at the school... (colo??? what???)

    Guns prevent violence, it's there own damn fault if there's an accident...

  • Jose Hipants on December 22, 2012 3:38 PM:

    "the overwhelming majority of mentally ill people do not commit violent acts"
    This is true. Also true, the overwhelming majority of gun owners do not commit violent acts.
    Gun owner does not equal gun nut, redneck, or even conservative.
    Best not to start making lists of people who might merit police attention, that may not turn out the way you'd hoped.

  • SYSPROG on December 22, 2012 3:48 PM:

    EXACTLY what I was thinking yesterday as I watched this rodent spew his vile. God love you for putting it in words!

  • exlibra on December 22, 2012 4:01 PM:

    And in the case of the Sandy Hook massacre, even if Adam Lanza had, somehow, been put on an easily accessible list (privacy issues, anyone?), nothing would have been resolved anyway, because the guns weren't sold to him, but to his Mom. And his Mom may have been nutty as a fruitcake (prepper), but was not diagnosed as mentally ill.

  • Dredd on December 22, 2012 4:07 PM:

    If you get a chance see Final Word (Lawrence O'Donnell) on MSNBC.

    He nails it.

  • c u n d gulag on December 22, 2012 4:18 PM:

    What really still surprises me, is that the hard-core, racist NRA members (no, certainly not all of them), don’t want gun control in selective areas – you know, the places where the “Blah” people live.

    One might think that they’d want gun control in those areas, so that the “Blah’s” can’t hot-wire Caddie’s or Lexus’s, or get on trains or buses, grab some Tall-boys, and go all “In Cold Blood” on some poor white rural family?

    Is it because they want the “Blah’s,” the “game,” armed, so if they come, it’s a fair fight?

    I just don’t understand why the racist element in the NRA wouldn’t say, ‘OK, NY, Chicago, DC, LA, Phillie, St. Louis, Houston, go ahead, pass your gun control laws. We want the Niggra’s unarmed, too.”

    Can anyone help me understand this?

  • Jonathan on December 22, 2012 4:26 PM:

    Instead of an Orwellian surveillance state keeping tabs on anyone who ever sought the help of a mental health professional, how about a law requiring states to give the FBI the names of those who has been involuntarily committed?

    It's already the law that if you've been 'pink-slipped'(or '302'd' or 'Baker-Acted') your name should go in the FBI's NCIS database. That's what gun vendors use for background checks. The problem is, there's no federal law that requires the states to submit the names in the first place. http://smartgunlaws.org says that as of 2007, only 23 states had bothered.

    Might people get involuntarily hospitalized without posing a threat? This mental health professional can tell you the chance of that starts with a decimal point and some zeros. State laws allow people to apply to have their gun rights reinstated, which tones down the Orwellianity of a database. Everyone agrees we should do more to keep dangerously mentally-ill people away from weapons. The NRA says we should enforce the gun laws that already exist. We could do both with a federal law that requires the FBI be told who's been locked up to prevent suicide or murder.

  • Rabbler on December 22, 2012 4:43 PM:

    I wonder what % of us, in general, would fall into the broadening and burgeoning categories of personality disorder? Back in the USSR? We'll know how lucky we were after we start down this path.

  • Crissa on December 22, 2012 4:44 PM:

    I wouldn't be averse to requiring counseling for those seeking to buy, register, or license their gun use. Sure, psychiatrists can't predict who'll be violent - but their interactions can reduce the severity or increase the likelihood that help will be sought instead of violent actions.

  • golack on December 22, 2012 4:50 PM:

    Jose is right, most gun owners don't commit violent acts. Most also don't have 30 round clips, armor piecing bullets, shoot from the hip semi-automatic rifles, etc. Yet even these sensible restrictions are blocked. Again, most gun owners would agree to those restrictions, but never the NRA-the public voice of gun owners. Until gun owners renounce the NRA, they'll be painted with that same brush.

  • mudwall jackson on December 22, 2012 5:06 PM:

    wayne lapierre is a joke. his ideas — and i use the term extremely loosely — aren't even worthy of ridicule let alone debate.

  • Prof B in LA on December 22, 2012 5:09 PM:

    Let's see if I can keep the Right Wing position on lists straight:

    1. List of "anti-American" Democrats - check
    2. List of suspected Muslims - check
    3. List of American citizens with psychiatric disorders - check
    4. List of American gun owners -- TYRANNY!!!! WOLVERINES!!!

  • Jose Hipants on December 22, 2012 5:14 PM:

    Mr. Gulag, modern gun control was a response to the Black Panthers arming for self-defense. Remember those posters of Huey Newton with a rifle? Malcom X: "by any means necessary" etc.
    It just wasn't supposed to apply to everyone else.

  • T2 on December 22, 2012 5:45 PM:

    Woke up to see LaPierre's screed treated like a real news story on the front page of my newspaper. An idea worthy of discussion instead of a preposterous joke. That's the power of NRA.

  • Anonymous on December 22, 2012 7:51 PM:

    Be afraid! Be very afraid! Then you will buy more of my guns.

  • david1234 on December 22, 2012 9:28 PM:

    I suspect that a major factor in these rampage killings is bitterness due to their perception of how society views them. Judging people by their disabilities rather than their actions, and denying them the same rights of others when they have not done anything wrong is not what we should be doing.

  • Walt French on December 23, 2012 10:35 AM:

    It IS interesting from one perspective: the Congresscritters who represent the NRA have recently mandated that our national health organizations NOT study the causes, prevention or recovery from violence involving weapons; surely this proposal should at least cause an immediate reversal of those restrictions.

  • Just Guessing on December 23, 2012 8:39 PM:

    The comments about the mentally ill database remind me of a Jakarta newspaper article I collected when I was in Asia during the 80's.

    There had been a security problem at a mental hospital in Jakarta and several hundred patients had "escaped" into the city. When the chief of police was asked why the police hadn't helped rounding up the patients, he pointed out that he and his staff couldn't tell the difference between the patients and normal people.