Good post, Uncle Buck. I'd add the following, to the effect that the whole mental-illness thing is a very slippery slope...
Dr. Meyer started this thread as a discussion of the terminology of mental illness as applied to debates about gun ownership. However, I think the larger problem is not just a lack of knowledge about mental illness and the most up-to-date ways of talking about it, but a lack of thought about the ways illness and civil rights intersect.
Every time there's a rampage shooting (at least by a non-Muslim), it's commonly assumed that the perpetrator must have been mentally ill; The premise here is that only a mentally ill person would do such a thing. Sometimes the shooter has an actual diagnosis of mental illness, and a history of encounters with the mental health system -- sometimes not.
I'd argue that this assumption is unwarranted, and that it's only possible because mental illness is stigmatized in ways that other illnesses are not.
Most serious mental illnesses have an organic component; the fact that the most obvious symptoms are in the realm of behavior/emotion/thought doesn't, in itself, differentiate "mental" illness from illness in general. Example: someone who says "I'm tired all the time, and I have trouble remembering things" might be suffering from depression -- or from hypothyroidism, anemia, congestive heart failure, etc., etc.
I don't think any of us would see the latter conditions as reasons to deprive people of their rights, including their right to own guns, nor should we be so quick to accept mental illness as a reason to do so. Most mentally ill people aren't violent; taking away their 2nd amendment rights on the basis of a mere diagnosis means accepting a heck of a lot of "false positives" as the price of safety -- or rather, of the illusion of safety.
Remember "due process," that quaint little thing in the Constitution that's meant to ensure that the government can't deprive us of our rights without a darn good reason, as determined (usually) in a court of law?
Illness, whether mental or physical, ought not to be a reason to take away a person's Constitutional rights without some form of due process, i.e. a trip through the legal system.
There's a huge difference between a system which requires a legal hearing in order to determine that someone is mentally incompetent or dangerous, and restricts his rights on that basis, and a system in which a person can lose his rights based on a report from a single mental health professional, especially when potential liability issues mean that the latter is not a disinterested party. (And as to family members -- yikes!!)
And even in a legal setting, such a determination ought to be made on the basis of a person's overt behavior, not merely on the strength of a diagnosis or "professional opinion". The standard should be at least as high as that for civil commitment; if someone has not shown himself by his words or actions to be a danger to others, there's no justification for depriving him of his rights.
This, more or less, is the current standard at the Federal level for deciding if someone is a prohibited person by reason of his mental state; the main reason it works so badly is that few states comply with the reporting requirement, due either to their own privacy laws or to underfunding.
Let's work to fix that, at the state level, as a first step, rather than demonizing the mentally ill as a way of countering the other side's demonization of gun owners.
Last edited by Evan Thomas; January 2, 2013 at 07:48 PM.
Reason: too many words.