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On mental health and guns

by Bob Morris, published

Arizona allows anyone concerned about the mental health of another to report them to authorities to be evaluated, even as they continue to slash their mental health budget. Many other states including California are of course doing the same.

Such cuts do put those needing help more at risk.  However, the key to recovering from mental illness is for the person to want to change. States can't make anyone change nor can they lock someone up for acting oddly. This is certainly a good thing as such detention power could obviously be abused. Some states can invoke a 72 hour mandatory psychiatric hold but after that, the person is free to leave.

Someone I know was bipolar. She went off her meds and ended up homeless, not in contact with reality. Friends contacted the authorities with their concerns and she was put on a 72 hour hold. It worked. Today, several years later, she's recovered and is happily married with a responsible job. She really wanted to get better and has worked hard at it. For the first year she received public assistance, then got a little job and didn't need the public money anymore. Now she has a job in which she helps others who have been like she was. So, recovery really can happen.

In any big city you see people wandering around talking to the invisible people. Should they be locked up? Is there any possible way to know if one of them might pick up a gun and start shooting? Not to my knowledge.

Jared Loughner, the Arizona shooter, used a Glock with a 30 round clip. Should such clips be outlawed? A gun owner friend says, look, you can kill someone with a machete too. Sure, but you can kill them much faster with a Glock and machetes are harder to hide. Consider this though. Utah has the highest rate of gun ownership and the lowest rate of gun violence. Vermont was the first state to legalize concealed carry without a permit and to my knowledge has had no crazed shooters.

We have a culture of confrontation now. It's that 'lone gunman cleans up a town' ethos that has been with us since the Wild West days. It has a positive side too, that of the individualist who ignores the accepted wisdom and creates something new of his own.  But it sure has a dark side. Lone gunman fantasies can obviously make for trouble if mixed with mental illness.

Sarah Palin did not mean those targeted on that map should actually be killed any more than Rahm Emmanuel did when he recited names of his political enemies, banged his fist and yelled "dead." But after the Arizona shooting, such things now seem toxic, violent, and pointlessly aggressive.  Maybe we've reached a turning point and as a country we will turn away from violent metaphors and demonizing the opposition. I sure hope so. If not, then the next shooter might be way more sane, calculating - and deadly.

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