Browsing the blog archivesfor the day Wednesday, June 22nd, 2016.


Are Guns Nuts Too Mentally Ill to Own Guns?

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Obama Administration

Lots of people have commented on the Senate’s failure to pass any of the four gun control measures it considered this week. And some of those commentaries pointed out that the measures were lame to begin with.

As I understand it, one of the measures would have provided for federal background checks for gun purchases at gun shows or over the Internet, which I certainly support. Another would have blocked people on the terrorist watch list from buying guns. This makes for a good talking point — let’s take guns away from ISIS!  But the terrorist watch list is an opaque and mysterious thing that easily could be used to unfairly jerk people around (see Glenn Greenwald on this point). And it’s highly questionable how effective such blocking would be, anyway.

But to me, the single biggest howler among these proposals was the Republican one for a “mental illness” database.

The Senate rejected first a Republican proposal to update the background check system for gun purchases, which would have required states to add more information on mental health records to a national database. …

… Some Senate Democrats warned that the legislation’s revised definition of who would be considered mentally ill could potentially still allow those with significant psychological issues to legally purchase guns.

The “revised definition” be damned; doing this at all is objectionable on several levels.

First, “mental illness” is not a tightly defined scientific term; it could apply to a wide range of brain, behavioral and mood disorders, from mild and common to severe and rare. I do not want a bunch of politicians with no background in psychology defining it, especially since I suspect at least half of Congress currently might qualify as “mentally ill” depending on where you draw parameters. And I’m not joking.

Second, given the stigma attached to any kind of psychological disorder, a list like that could visit all kinds of discrimination against the people on it.

Third, data tell us that even severe mental illness accounts for very little of our gun violence. According to this article, people with severe mental illness commit only about 4 percent of firearm homicides in the U.S. And expecting psychiatrists to report on potentially violent patients probably won’t help;  predicting which patient might become violent is an inexact science, “only slightly more accurate than flipping a coin.”

Even among our infamous mass shooters, who certainly seem to have been deranged, it’s estimated that only about 22 percent of them were “mentally ill.” And only about 11 percent had problems severe enough that they’d been reported to a doctor or another authority before the shooting. As a group, mass shooters may be less crazy than Congress. And according to this guy, only 10 percent of “jihadist terrorists” in the U.S. were mentally ill, which makes them saner than the general population.

However, there may be a connection between behavior or personality and gun ownership that does raise red flags for potential gun violence.

The more guns a person owns, the more likely they are to report experiencing serious, uncontrollable outbursts of anger and aggression. That’s the conclusion of a new study published in the journal Behavioral Sciences and the Law, which found that nearly one in ten Americans have both a history of impulsive anger and access to a firearm.

“The new research also indicates that the 310 million firearms estimated to be in private hands in the United States are disproportionately owned by people who are prone to angry, impulsive behavior and have a potentially dangerous habit of keeping their guns close at hand,” the Los Angeles Times reports. “That’s because people owning six or more guns were more likely to fall into both of these categories than people who owned a single gun.”

It turns out that being chronically angry is the REAL warning sign that predicts a potential killer.

A number of common mental health conditions — including personality disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder and alcohol use disorder — tend to be associated with the risky mix of pathological anger with gun access, according to the APA.
“However, only a small proportion of angry people with guns has ever been hospitalized for a mental health problem — voluntarily or involuntarily — and thus most would not be prohibited from firearms under the involuntary commitment exclusion.”

IMO an argument could be made that people — men especially but possibly not exclusively — who are militant about their unfettered right to own and carry any firearm they want are displaying behavior that ought to disqualify them from owning guns at all.

In fact, people have made that argument.

What we’re seeing is a strong correlation between pathological anger and a desire to own multiple guns. There is also a strong correlation between pathological anger and violent behavior.  Therefore, the very people who are most motivated to purchase more than one high-powered weapon are the last people who ought to be purchasing high-powered weapons.

But maybe some day the American Psychiatric Association will include “gun nut disorder” in the DSM, making it an official “mental illness.”  Then we can talk about a mental illness watch list.

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