Here's Something: Gun putsch wrongly targets mentally ill

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It seems the mentally ill are the latest victims of gun-control enthusiasts who, in their haste to name, blame and shame, are grasping at straws to eradicate mass shootings.

Around the country, state legislatures are considering “red-flag” bills that would allow governments to confiscate guns from people who are deemed a threat to themselves or others. Supporters say the effort will keep guns out of the hands of the mentally ill, which, we are told, is the group we really need to worry about when it comes to mass shootings.

Under Maine’s proposed law, if a person “presents an imminent and substantial risk of serious bodily injury or death,” members of that person’s family or household, as well as police, can seek a “community protection order” requiring the temporary forfeiture of guns owned by the individual.

The proposal, LD 1884, would require the police to return the guns within 21 days, unless there’s compelling evidence the forfeiture should be extended to a maximum of 180 days.

There is a lot wrong with this slippery slope of a bill. As most laws hastily written in the wake of a tragedy – in this case, the Parkland, Florida, school shooting – LD 1884 will do little good and may cause more harm to a segment of our populace that is increasingly coming under attack: the mentally ill.

Let’s get one thing straight. Those with serious mental illness are only responsible for a tiny percentage of violent gun crime. In fact, very few mass shooters are mentally ill. Here are a few statistics issued in 2016 by the American Psychiatric Association to correct our thinking on the subject:

• Mass shootings by people with serious mental illness represent less than 1 percent of all yearly gun-related homicides.

• The overall contribution of people with serious mental illness to violent crimes is only about 3 percent. When these crimes are examined in detail, an even smaller percentage of them are found to involve firearms.

• Perpetrators of mass shootings are unlikely to have a history of involuntary psychiatric hospitalization.

• Gun restriction laws focusing on people with mental illness perpetuate the myth that mental illness leads to violence, as well as the misconception that gun violence and mental illness are strongly linked. Stigma represents a major barrier to access and treatment of mental illness, which in turn increases the public health burden.

How many times have we heard the mentally ill should be banned from getting guns? The media perpetuate this thinking as they oversimplify the complex issue of mass shootings, telling us mass shooters aren’t influenced by rational decision-making, but by mental illness. An examination of past shootings and bombings, however, proves most perpetrators aren’t mentally ill; they’re lashing out in a rational way against a perceived or actual injustice, wrong or slight.

According to a 2004 report by the psychiatric association examining the backgrounds of mass murderers, an individual’s life experiences and choices led them to kill.

“The subjects had all been bullied or isolated during childhood and subsequently became loners who felt despair over their social alienation,” the report found. “They demonstrated paranoid traits such as suspiciousness and grudge holding. Their worldview suggested a paranoid mindset; they believed others to be generally rejecting and uncaring. As a result, they spent a great deal of time feeling resentful and ruminating on past humiliations. The ruminations subsequently evolved into fantasies of violent revenge.”

Mass murder, in other words, is rarely an act perpetrated by the insane, though sane folks can’t imagine any differently. Like the man who diabolically prepared for his rampage in Las Vegas last year or the numerous school shooters who had no history of mental illness or criminal histories, mass shooters come out of nowhere, surprising even their friends and families.

But politicians, in their bid to calm a worried populace, act impulsively to write laws such as LD 1884 to feign a semblance of control over such monstrous acts. Such proposals, however, do nothing but clamp down on the law-abiding, and broad-brush the general populace as criminals-in-waiting.

Confiscating guns based on worried hearsay from family members or at the whim of a police officer is a slippery slope. Who is to predict what will drive a person to shoot others? Should we take guns away from everyone who has been recently fired, divorced or lost money at a casino in an effort to prevent violent outbursts of revenge? LD 1884 would make this possible.

Moreover, should the government be in the business of determining who is sane and insane as a prerequisite for gun ownership? Defining mental illness is better left to the professionals, not lawmakers or law enforcers.

John Balentine, a former managing editor for Sun Media Group, lives in Windham.

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