First and foremost, let me state that mentally ill people are far more likely to be the victims than the perpetrators of violent crime. And that it's not clear that the
I have been seriously suicidal multiple times. I have been hospitalized because of this, also multiple times. If you read my previous post, you can see that I was definitely a danger to myself. And sometimes I was a danger to others.
I have been healthy for a decade at a time and then gotten depressed and suicidal again. So, regardless of how happy and healthy I appear to be, there is a chance that things will change and I will become suicidal again.
I should never be able to purchase a gun.*
A Harvard School of Public Health study that analyzed data on three groups of adolescents found that "[t]hose who died by suicide were twice as likely to have a gun at home than either of the other two groups." They agree with my previous post that firearms are a more lethal means of suicide because there is no changing your mind once the trigger is pulled. Take a look at their chart showing the fatality rate for different methods of suicide.
Also consider that for individuals who kill their children and commit suicide (filicide-suicide), "The large majority (73%) of parents killed their children by shooting." A 1993 study concluded that there was a correlation between defensive gun ownership and suicide, but not beween sporting gun ownership and suicide. There is also a multitude of research on mass shootings, if you want to check it out.
It has also been shown that severe mental illness is a common feature of filicide-suicide.
So firearms are the most lethal means of suicide and the most prevalent method of filicide-suicide. And many people who commit filicide-suicide have a serious mental illness. To me, this suggests that we must stop seriously mentally ill people like me from having guns.
I understand that changes to background checks wouldn't have made a difference in the
Currently, one of the reasons you can be denied the purchase of a gun is if you have "been adjudicated as a mental defective or ha[ve] been committed to any mental institution" (page 9). The NRA's Wayne LaPierre thinks we should go even further and have "an active national database of the mentally ill." In fact, 38 states already have such databases. The problem is that it's a patchwork project, and each state has different criteria.
Some firearm owners are afraid that such a database is a slippery slope. Other people reject the idea of a database listing those with "a history of mental illness." So do I; that terminology is much too broad.
There is also a concern about labelling and stigma. Some people object to being labelled as "mentally ill" at all, let alone being on a federal list. Being on such a list could cause more shame for those who already feel stigmatized. But the rules already state that the person performing a background check will not see "any of the underlying information in the records checked by the system" (p. 113).
My friend Neil is afraid that the method of getting on such a list would be hinky, and that the list could be used for other purposes, up to and including denying employment. This is another slippery slope, where initial intent could be corrupted by a panicky public. And I share that concern. But if this is a piece of the puzzle that will help stop mass shootings, I am willing to take that chance.
Clearly, the language for this must be precise. Stop referring to people as "mental defectives" and don't target people with "a history of mental illness." Here are my suggestions:
- Change the language to say that you cannot buy a gun if you have been admitted to a hospital because you were a "danger to yourself or others," whether you were adjudicated or you admitted yourself.
- Only designated employees of hospitals should be able to add to the list.
- The list should only be available to firearms dealers and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms.
- It must be a federal database, with uniform, specific criteria regarding who should be added to the database.
* It makes me very sad to say this, because, having gotten used to the idea of killing myself, the thought of suicide is like an old friend, and I would really like to have a gun to keep that old friend company.