In Arizona's Wake, Gun Control for the Mentally Ill?

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Much has been made of Tucson shooting suspect Jared Loughner’s troubled state of mind by police and former classmates. But if Loughner’s mental issues were a factor in Saturday’s attacks, does it follow that we should screen people for mental illness before allowing them to purchase guns? Is this even possible? And more importantly, do these kind of gun restrictions save lives or are they merely knee-jerk responses that only give us the impression of added safety?

To kick start our conversation this morning we’re joined by Dan Baum, a contributor to Harpers Magazine. He wrote a cover piece for their August issue about how it feels to carry a gun – he’s also writing a book about the relationship between Americans and their guns. Also with us is Dr. Nada Stotland, former president of the American Psychiatric association.


Dan Baum and Dr Nada Stotland

Produced by:

Kate McGough

Comments [17]

Tom Sharp from Oklahoma

In parts of Europe and Australia guns are privately owned but are stored at gun club lockers and checked out when need for hunting or practice. This may only practical in larger metro areas but allows control and ownership.

Cars require insurance because they may cause injury if not properly used. A similiar requirement for weapons puts the burden of licensing on a third party, insurance companies. This may lead to proficency test or other verifications to lessen costs of insurance to owners.

Jan. 11 2011 11:22 AM

Sorry, I meant to say:
...completely untreated or inadequately treated mental illness.

Jan. 11 2011 10:49 AM
Wendy from Jersey City

There is a specific subset of "crazy" or "mentally ill" that should not have access to guns. The label for them might not be schizophrenic or plain "mentally ill", but as medicine progresses, the group may be more and more identifiable and given some label. I don't know how much exposure you have to untreated schizophrenics and/or people with paranoid disorders, or those who are actively resistant to accepting treatment. Their profile when it comes to violence is probably on average different from what you see in your clinic. I think typically events like the tragedy in Arizona involve completely or inadequately untreated mental illness.

Jan. 11 2011 10:46 AM
Jon Leszczynski from Warren, MI

The self-described liberal Democrat is correct, as gun ownership has increased and the ability to carry weapons has increased, gun crime has gone down. This is not a single correlation (as suggested by the commentator) but something that the data shows happening again and again and again.

Gun ownership is not just about hunting or protecting oneself and family. Do not forget why the founders included this amendment. They did so because they had just overthrown their government through force of arms and they wanted to maintain that capacity for future generations. It is also worthwhile to note that they did so even though they were a minority of voices.

Looking to put more controls into who gets guns is just wrong. In our legal system we have a belief that it is better that 10 guilty people go free if it prevents one innocent person from being jailed. The same ideal should apply to all rights. It is better that 10 people get rights than prevent somebody from justly exercising their rights.

The psych doc had good points about the fact that those who seek mental health treatment are pretty much just as safe with a weapon as the rest of the populace. There was talk about drugs, alcohol and vehicles, but that point can be more clearly made as thus: even though driving is a privilege and not a right, we do not use evidence of previous drug and alcohol problems as a reason not to give somebody a license, we only use driving records and current physical ability to drive.

The commentators were looking for laws that could help, I'd suggest that we continue even further down the path we have headed. The more regular citizens we have in public who can and are willing to carry arms, the safer we all will be. Not only do openly carried arms deter aggression, but in the cases where that deterrence fails, they can end that aggression quickly and thus limiting the damage that can be caused.

Jan. 11 2011 09:25 AM
Mark from New Jersey

"Yeah, one of the problems about fire arms in this country is quite frankly the ignorance and the hysteria surrounding them. If more people learn to use them, use them safely, and use them for personal protection not nut cases like the guy who tried to assassinate a representative would have been taken care of within a seconds after he pulled that gun in public and started shooting."

Jan. 11 2011 09:22 AM
Patricia from FH

John - "under siege" really? or those words necessary? Maybe you should look up the word siege before using it. Talk shows, sometimes you guys just add to the problem.

Jan. 11 2011 08:42 AM
Adam Cardew from Lake Orion, MI

You keep talking about mental health and fail to mention the violent rhetoric that Sarah Palin and other political members have been using for months. If I blame anything I do not blame the tool, I blame those who incite violence.

Jan. 11 2011 08:37 AM
Bill from Cold Spring NY

Mental health screenings can and are carried out by the courts in certain states. In order to buy a pistol in NY, you need a permit. In order to get a permit, a local judge signs off after reviewing your full record and 3rd party recommendations. In the absence of banning handguns, permitting seems to greatly cut back on the sheer number of deadly weapons. Don't leave this to gunstore clercks....

Jan. 11 2011 08:20 AM
Jason from Michigan

Guns kill people, period. This guy would not have killed 6 people if he only had a knife or a bat. It is time to stop the insanity and confiscate all firearms that are not made for hunting.

Jan. 11 2011 08:09 AM
Monica from NJ

Perhaps this tragedy could have been prevented with free mental health care.

Jan. 11 2011 07:40 AM
David Lupo from Wareham, MA

It is easy to justify the owning of a gun, and in this country we are madly in love with them. To cut back on ownership would be contrary to holy capitalism. We dummy ourselves down to believe that we need them for family protection (how often has an attack happened?) and sports (shooting at game with automatic weapons?). Truth is, insanity abounds.

Jan. 11 2011 06:55 AM
Emily from New hampshire

If the legal age for purchasing a gun was 25, like renting a car in some places, this purchase would not have happened. This young man stilled lived at home. Perhaps he would have secured a gun anyway...or maybe not.

Jan. 11 2011 06:54 AM
Caroline from New York

Gun Control is the obvious talking point with this tragic and horrible shooting, but what about the elephant in the room:
Emotional and Mental Healthcare.
What kind of access did Jared Loughner have to mental wellness care?
Considering that Republicans are currently in the motions to try and remove a healthcare program that will not only provide affordable physical healthcare, yet also, care for emotional and mental illnesses; I think we should be asking the question, not how easily Mr. Loughner was able to access a gun, but what would be the state of his mental and emotional health if he had had accessible and affordable healthcare???

Jan. 11 2011 06:51 AM
Barry from Harlem, NYC

If six Black people in Bed Sty, South Chicago, Newark NJ or DC were killed by another Black person we wouldn't be talking about mental illness of the shooter.

Jan. 11 2011 06:45 AM

For the record, most states already require a person wanting to purchase a gun to take a safety course, take a test, and pass a background screening prior to the purchase. Most persons wanting to commit a crime do not purchase their weapons legally. Perhaps if more people were allowed to legally carry firearms, criminals would think twice before committing their crimes.

Jan. 11 2011 06:43 AM
Gabriel Wishik, MD from Boston

Further gun control may not have prevented this tragedy, and most mentally ill people are not violent. But shine a light on the failing infrastructure of mental health services in this country and we may see opportunities to intervene in this case that would have prevented tragedy. We do not serve people with mental illness well in the US.

Jan. 11 2011 06:26 AM
Susan Corkran from Rhode Island

Woa, "I don't want crazy people getting guns"? So-called "crazy people" are as diverse as you and I -- and may in fact BE you and me. The diversity of personalities and impulses is as vast among people with schizophrenia as it is among people in wheelchairs, people with diabetes, people with red hair. As a nurse at a community mental health center I know plenty of badly-behaved so-called "normal people" and hundreds of gentle, harmless people with mental illness, who should have the right to protect themselves just as the rest of us do -- IF that's what we're really doing in this country with guns.

Jan. 11 2011 06:25 AM

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