Can We Afford It?

The President is concerned that periodically we have paroxysms of people with mental health issues committing various crimes, such as shooting multiple people in public places.  A number of other Democrats have also expressed concerns about this all under the guise of “gun safety”.  The problem is, this has very little to do with guns and everything to do with personal liberty and freedom.

This is not to say there are not valid concerns about people who should not have weapons (of any sort) being able to get them, pretty much on demand.  However, the problem isn’t with restricting access to guns, bows, knives and down to pink hair ties when you get right down to what can and cannot be used as a weapon.  The problem is identifying who is “competent” to handle a weapon and who is not.

Some folks like to toss around the phrase “background check” and “thorough background check” as if this was some sort of mantra.  As someone who has done some cursory background checks in his time and had them done on himself, there is no such thing as a background check that is going to disclose the sorts of problems that plagued the latest shooter in Oregon.  The information is simply not available today.

What concerns me about this is a Federal push to make sure this information is available.

Today, if you go to a shrink and disclose all sorts of dark things this information stays locked up in the shrink’s files.  There is no reason for it to be disclosed: not to insurance companies, not to the government.  The only reason it would be disclosed is if your disclosures constituted what the doctor thought was a realistic threat to another person – then some, but certainly not all, of this information would likely be disclosed to some law enforcement types.

So what happens to this information?  Nothing.  It remains buried in sea of paperwork that never goes anywhere.  So, how exactly would a “thorough background check” find this?  It would not.  There is no process by which it would ever be available for such purposes.

How some mental illnesses do get “documented” is if you are in such dire straits that you are committed involuntarily to a psychiatric facility, usually by a judge.  This is not a criminal proceeding, but there are records.  Unfortunately, they are not the sort of records that states make available through various public records.  So if someone runs even an FBI basic background check (which covers state records as well as federal), they are likely not going to find anything about this.  Not without digging deeper, probably a lot deeper.  Now we are in the realm of people calling other people on the phone and rooting around in places that are not easily searched.  Sometimes, still, we are talking about paper documents.

So what in the heck are these people talking about when they say they want to restrict gun purchases for people with “documented mental illness?”  Well, you can assume they are talking about two things.  First off, they are going to require disclosure of a lot more treatment information to the State or Federal authorities so when people are seeking help this gets noted down in places that can be searched easily.  The second thing is that the definition of a “background check” is going to get into a lot more detail than it does today.

Understand that this means such information will be available to prospective employers, parents of girlfriends, landlords, and just about anyone with a spare $10 and some curiosity.  Once it gets to the level of the information that is already available via public records, it is going to be collected and reported upon by every one of the companies offering “public records searches” on the Internet.

This seems terribly counterproductive.  It is going to mean that nobody goes to a mental health professional unless they want this information disclosed to anyone looking.  Not something anyone in the mental health field would find to be useful.

Glock 17
Your average, common semi-automatic pistol.

Understand that most of this comes from a fear of guns.  A lot of people have never fired a gun of any sort and have little understanding of what is involved in doing so.

The problem with guns, and especially semi-automatic pistols, is that they allow the unskilled to kill and maim at reasonable short ranges.  Further away than they could with a knife.  And use of such guns requires far less practice than shooting a bow, although a bow in the right hands can be just about as deadly and perhaps far more psychologically devastating; a bow is a silent weapon.

This means that within about 30 minutes I can hand a semi-automatic pistol with a 15-round magazine to someone and give them four additional magazines.  They can now fire 75 times with maybe 10 seconds between each 15 rounds to yank out the empty clip and put in a full one.  Scary.  That is all it takes for someone to go from someone with a grudge to a school shooter.  Scary indeed.

The problem is from a government standpoint the difference between “gun” and a lot of other weapons isn’t all that much.  If the government is going to take steps to protect us from these scary guns, they are unlikely to stop at semi-automatic pistols.  Someone with a “mandate” is going to want to include semi-automatic rifles, shotguns, and work downward from there.  Why wouldn’t they include nail guns, especially the ones that are completely portable?  How about a bow or a big, jagged knife?  Or what about that Chef’s Collection knife set you saw last week?

If the government is going to get into the business of protecting us from the unstable getting weapons, it is far more likely to do so in an overreaching, extreme way rather than some tiny, limited way.  Remember the Assault Weapons Ban where guns were banned based on the way they looked rather than the way they performed?   Expecting attention to fine details is not something that Congress does well.

It is also entirely possible that your driver’s license could be considered a license to use a powerful weapon.  Moving 2+ tons of metal and sharp plastic around is certainly capable of doing lots of damage to people and property.

My point is that if the government is going to enact laws based on fear, we need to expect (and even demand) that the fear not be confined to little boxes of unreasonableness.  If the government is going to say that “We’re here to protect you!” we need to expect that protection is going to be pretty far reaching.

I do not believe this is a Republican or a Democrat issue.  It is an “everyone” issue.  Sure, the people crying the loudest for “protection” are Democrats today and they are saying the Republicans have the NRA on their side and are being completely unreasonable.  Sorry, but there is nothing good that could come from enacting laws based on fear.  We saw a population stirred up by fear in the 1930s and we didn’t like it much.  We would like it now even less.

Getting people’s mental health information as part of the public record would do incredible amounts of damage to everyday people, regardless of their ever buying a gun.  And just think if you had to “prove” you weren’t suffering from some mental illness.

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