There are other ways to frame that question, but at last week’s gun rights seminar in Streator several attendees told state Rep. Lance Yednock, D-Ottawa, they think people refuse to discuss mental health with professionals for fear they’ll be forced to surrender their legally owned weapons.
The current relevant state law, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, reads as follows: “A person commits the offense of unlawful possession of firearms or firearm ammunition when: He has been a patient in a mental institution within the past five years and has any firearms or firearm ammunition in his possession; or he is a person with an intellectual disability and has any firearms or firearm ammunition in his possession.”
(For the purposes of state law, intellectual disability is generally related to cognitive function and brain development and not to be confused with behavioral disorders or chemical dependencies.)
There’s a broad gap between talking to a counselor or psychologist and being committed to a mental institution, but that doesn’t mean these gun owners’ concerns are baseless. Politicians and advocates of all stripes routinely discuss mental illness while addressing gun regulation. While the color of the current law shouldn’t discourage the average person from seeking help, there’s clearly support for legislation empowering doctors to raise red flags that limit access to weapons.
This line of reasoning runs counter to research showing people suffering from mental illness are more likely to be victims of violence than to commit such acts. It also overlooks the danger a gun in the home might present to the person who owns it in favor of considering primarily the headline-grabbing mass shooting incidents.
The National Alliance on Mental Illness is ultimately in the same camp as those at Yednock’s seminar, saying the best way to reduce risks of people with mental illness committing violence is through treatment of those underlying conditions, not just by taking away guns from those brave enough to seek help.
Unfortunately, the NAMI also reports fewer than a third of all adults and half of children with a diagnosed mental illness get any such treatment in a given year. That’s despite research indicating certain factors “may increase risks of violence among a small number of individuals with mental illness. These factors include: co-occurring abuse of alcohol or illegal drugs; past history of violence; being young and male; (and) untreated psychosis.”
The NAMI argues reporting laws should focus on those traits and not apply broadly to anyone with a diagnosed mental illness. It insists the National Instant Criminal Background Check System should eliminate “highly offensive and outdate wording” —�specifically a clause referring to people “adjudicated as being mentally defective,” repeated verbatim in many state laws —�and establish privacy safeguards so names in gun reporting databases aren’t used for any other purposes.
"We don’t want anyone not to get the help they need because they fear their gun will be taken away," Yednock told the crowd in Streator. "On the other hand, we also need to be aware of the people who may have an episode. We should keep guns out of the hands of people with a genuine mental health issue."
His heart seems in the right place, but converting that sentiment to practical legislation is a tall order requiring copious input from mental health professionals. What doesn’t help is dehumanizing language that paints people as nothing more than their diagnosed condition or conflating common mental illnesses with whatever lurks in the mind of a mass murderer.
According to NAMI, 20 percent of adults encounter a mental health condition every year — clinical depression, anxiety, eating disorders, post-traumatic stress and more —�while one in 17 lives with something more serious like bipolar disorder or schizophrenia. We can and should talk about what prevents people from accessing or seeking care for these conditions, and we don’t need the specter of gun violence to have these conversations.
None would think twice about going to a doctor for a broken leg. Anyone with poor vision seeks out corrective lenses. Overwhelming tooth pain? Call your dentist. Yet far too many people with similarly debilitating mental conditions won’t or can’t (both are major problems) seek treatment. That has to change.
If you need help, start with your primary care physician for an appointment or referral. Contact NAMI at 800-950-6264 or firstname.lastname@example.org. We’re all better when healthy —�mentally, physically or otherwise — and when we consider our neighbor’s condition as carefully as our own.
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September 3, 2019 at 06:50AM