The Problem's Guns—Not the Mentally Ill

In the aftermath of the massacre of first-graders at Sandy Hook elementary school, right-wing defenders of unregulated guns have gravitated to a common alibi: The problem isn’t guns; it’s mental illness. If only society kept better track of crazy people and kept weapons out of their hands, we could prevent more episodes of armed mayhem.

Senator elect Marco Rubio has spoken of the need to “keep guns out of the hands of the mentally ill” and dozens of Tea Party Republicans have echoed the same talking point. The always predictable Charles Krauthammer wrote: “While law deters the rational, it has far less effect on the psychotic. The best we can do is to try to detain them, disarm them…. there's no free lunch. Increasing public safety almost always means restricting liberties.” And the NRA's Wayne LaPierre, in additional to calling for an armed guard in every school, urged an "active national database of the mentally ill."

Oh my, where to begin? Mental illness is just now starting to become less stigmatized. If we create an even more Orwellian society in which anyone who has ever sought treatment for emotional problems ended up in some national database, you can just imagine what that would do to people’s willingness to seek help. Surely it is better to end the easy purchase of combat weapons than it is to keep a record of everyone in America who might hypothetically go on a rampage. 

Surveillance as a substitute for gun control is no idle threat. In the age of anti-terrorism, courts have already permitted the National Security Agency to troll among otherwise confidential records—everything from cell phone and computer-information trails to bank and insurance company records. The Fourth Amendment, which usually requires a warrant for invasion of privacy, has been simply waived. If the justification is preventing “terrorism”—and surely shooting up a classroom is a kind of terrorism—the NSA could create a database in which half of Americans are classified as potential mass killers. 

Isn’t it better to just get rid of the guns?

For now, privacy protections such as The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPPA) make it illegal to disclose medical records, and mental-health treatment has an even higher standard of privacy protection. But it would be child’s play for the NSA to ignore these privacy protections, as it has others.

A second irony: The very right-wingers shedding crocodile tears over the need to focus on mental illness rather than gun control are the same people who have shredded public budgets that support treatment of the mentally ill. No area of public spending has been cut more deeply.

In Portland, Maine, a pioneering psychiatrist named William McFarlane has devised a strategy and outreach protocol for dramatically reducing the incidence of psychosis. The research of Dr. McFarlane and his colleagues demonstrated that it wasn’t the condition of schizophrenia per se so much as it was the devastating experience of a mental breakdown that disabled young adults and put them into the permanent status of the emotionally impaired. 

Dr. McFarlane and his team devised an early outreach and prevention system called the Portland Identification and Early Referral program (PIER) that made use of community education. Teachers, counselors, clergy, youth workers and young people themselves were encouraged to be alert to patterns that might indicate future risks of psychosis. Dr. McFarlane’s main intervention was family education and early counseling, supplemented where necessary by medication.

Many teenagers who were loners or were haunted by delusional thoughts, seeing the educational materials “self-referred.” They would come into the PIER office saying, “that sounds like me.” In Portland, the predicted incidence of hospital admissions for psychotic breaks was reduced by between a third and a half.

McFarlane’s breakthrough was hailed as the most important insight about how to reduce the devastating effects of severe mental illness in decades. With support from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the approach was expanded to several other cities and states. But in Portland, it has been shut down for lack of funding, thanks to that state’s right-wing governor. Reopening PIER in Portland would cost under $100,000 a year and would save many millions on hospital admissions and ruined lives spared.

What’s the connection to gun violence? “These kids who go on gun rampages,” says McFarlane, “tend to be pre-psychotic. Most people with mental illnesses are not dangerous, but these are. They still have enough functioning to methodically plot out their attacks. They have lost capacity for judgment but not for planning.” 

“At our very first family meetings,” McFarlane adds, “one of the things we emphasize is safety. Families get it. If they own guns, they either get rid of them, or lock them up.”

It may be a coincidence, but there have been no gun massacres in the communities that have programs modeled on PIER. However, referrals to Dr. McFarlane’s program and others like them are voluntary. Nobody is put into a database.

At the very least, the right-wingers who hope to shift the focus from gun control to mental illness might have the decency to support more funding to treat the latter. According to Michael Fitzpatrick, executive director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), some 60 percent of people with some form of mental illness receive no treatment whatsoever. More than half the counties in America, he adds, have no practicing psychologist, psychiatrist, or clinical social worker. 

When press coverage of Adam Lanza first surfaced, there was conjecture that the 20-year-old shooter may have had Asberger’s Syndrome, a loose diagnostic category that is being dropped from the newest edition of the official Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of mental disorders (DSM-V) in favor of the broader category of Autism.

All over America, parents of quirky kids are agonizing over whether their children might be “on the spectrum” or whether they simply hear “a different drummer,” as Thoreau so beautifully put it. Federal and state law gives parents the right to seek a full evaluation, and if a child is identified as having some version of even mild autism, the family can qualify for additional services. But there is the dreaded trade- off of services for stigma.

What if the risk of getting your child listed on some database as potential doers of violence were added to that equation? What parent would ever seek help? In fact, Asberger’s and Autism are seldom associated with violence.

The problem, folks, is the guns

Absent the guns, the loners who have shot up schools and shopping malls might have gotten out of control, but they would not have been able to go on shooting sprees. 

To the extent that the issue is mental illness, the problem is the gross underfunding of known treatments that work. Adding stigma and surveillance while not adding funds would only make an injustice that much worse. Can’t we at least keep that straight?

Comments

beginning as an army medic, then into civilian fields dealing with mental health...I can attest that the stigma and abusive/inadequate systems we have...strike fear and dread in the hearts and minds of any number of potential patients--some already experienced in the field. I read a report that suggests that Adam Lanza was adamantly fearful of being institutionalized if he and his mother moved to the pacific northwest, as she said (to her friends) that she had in mind. there is indeed an "Orwellian Factor" that says to them that any diagnostic label means oblivion, and we must improve on that perception/reality--whether or not Adam Lanza reacted in such a way to his mother's possible plans. in any event, it seems clear that he thought his future was bleak. until mental health care improves, he would not be alone in such an apprehension.

Tragically, Americans have long continued to regard gun control as a diminution of freedom rather than an extension of it – or at least, an extension of the right to live and let live. Though the UK, Japan and Australia managed to push through tough weapons legislation after mass shooting incidents, the NRA press conference a week after Newtown, underlines that this tragedy will not provoke similar meaningful change in the US. Robert Spitzer, author of The Politics of Gun Control, recently pointed out the institutional barriers to nationwide gun control in the US because most gun legislation is set by states rather than the federal government. Add to that the bald truth - there's little appetite for change, as may be discerned in the gun rights’ lobby’s aggressive spin on the shooting. They say it isn’t guns that need to be limited but the evil and mentally ill tendencies of people like Lanza. Red-blooded conservatives suggest that America and the world should stop trying to understand “craziness”. They urge that 'good gusy' be armed to tackle 'bad guys', which means even more guns in the system. But there is no acknowledgement of a basic truth - that fewer guns always mean fewer deaths. Period.

Let's see if I have this right: All 6 of the Connecticut teachers were (a) union members, and (b) are now dead. At least for the moment I see arming teachers and school administrators as a magnificent DETERRENT! I'd add an armed guard and bullet proof glass at the doors.

http://moneyedpoliticians.net

The NRA says guns don't kill people, people kill people. Yes, people with guns. I find it ironic that conservatives, who say they want to get the government out of their lives, and reduce federal spending, are advocating spending $5.5 billion of Federal money to place armed guards at every school in the nation. Do you place a guard at both the front door and the back door? What if the shooter first kills the guard? This suggestion is so absurd, only an irrational or desperate person would make it.

Actually, Robert, the problem is bullets. Tax and track bullets. Background check all purchases of ammunition. Allow unlimited sale of ammo only when at a certified firing range for use there with all unspent rounds returned/refunded upon the shooter leaving.

Mr. Kuttner, when gun issues are discussed, why is it always your explicit assumption that the people who are skeptical of gun bans are "right-wingers"? With this article, you've done something that I often associate with right-wingers themselves: framing the issue as an "us vs. them" thing. I like to think liberals are better than that, but alas, you are trying your best to prove me wrong.

It's as if you're completely unaware that plenty of gun owners in America do not consider themselves right-wingers or conservatives. I, for one, am a "slightly-left-of-center moderate". I own, collect and enjoy shooting guns. And I am highly skeptical that banning guns will have the effect you think it will. So are many other people who are not "right-wingers".

Now, if this creates some sort of cognitive dissonance for you, perhaps you need to ask why. Fact is, many "liberals" in America own guns. Perhaps as many as several million. And several I've spoken with in recent days agree that we need to do something (or several somethings), but also think that banning guns isn't it.

For starters, no, I don't think the problem is guns. Guns have been prevalent in American society since its inception. But mass shootings are for the most part a unique development in the last decade or two. This would suggest to me that perhaps there's something amiss that doesn't start with the letter "g". I fear you think that banning guns will go a long way to solving these problems, but I believe the real problems are far more complicated than an inanimate object.

Second, the proverbial horse is already out of the barn. There are at least 250M, and likely closer to 300M guns in America. Even an "assault weapons" ban would not make these guns go away. (I should mention that actual "assault weapons" have been tightly controlled since 1934. As I often have to tell my conservative friends, "words mean things.") The notion that banning new sales of such guns will decrease the chances of these guns ending up in the hands of those who would misuse them, seems to me as naive as the notion that passing strict laws against marijuana will ensure no one can obtain marijuana.

We do need to have this discussion, and I would agree that certain gun control measures need to be employed. For example, backgrounds checks should be mandatory on ALL gun sales. And yes, mental health records need to be part of those checks. But depriving 99.99% of gun owners from the lawful ability to purchase a semi-automatic gun because that other .01% cannot be trusted, seems draconian, reactionary and ill-advised. Oh, and it won't achieve the intended results.

Certainly, there are more liberals than conservatives who support gun control. It would be silly to deny that. But the prevailing thoughts on this issue among those who are left of center is not near as unanimous as you might like to believe. And on that note, I would also caution liberals that, as I wrote in response to one of Mr. Waldman's articles months ago, even after the tragic events of recent weeks the gun control issue is still to the political left what abortion is to the political right. It is treacherous political territory. And in this regard, I might say "Be careful what you wish for...because you might just get it."

Should an AWB pass next year, Democrats will pay an extreme political price, likely even wiping out a majority of the hard-fought gains in recent years. In this regard, the Democrats might do what the GOP has itself been unable to do: unify the political right in a way we haven't seen in many, many years. I do sincerely believe that more rational heads will eventually prevail, and that even many Democrats - knowing the political cost they will pay - will not be willing to fight this fight.

It's just as well. Gun bans in America are, for both the reasons I expressed here and for many other reasons, a bad idea and bad policy. I don't pretend to have all the answers, but I suspect we need to look deeper into current society and culture to find real, workable solutions. What you're suggesting is a mere band-aid, and even worse, a band-aid that won't stick. Let's look for solutions that will work, and not simply make us feel good.

"Even an assault weapons ban would not make these (already existing) guns go away."

The answer to this, rather than the Feinstein weapons ban, is one modeled on Australia's 1996 prohibition of military type weapons, with its critical government buyback of already existing weapons. While you will no doubt shudder at the requirement that those possessing these weapons sell them back to the government, we are talking about "military" type weapons. Most Americans will now support this.

Gerald, there are several problems with what you propose:

1. No, I don't believe most Americans will support this. An "Assault Weapons" ban on new sales will be hard enough to pass. What you're suggesting goes one step further, and amounts to a full-on confiscation of existing weapons. I sincerely do not believe there would be majority public support for millions of Americans being told, "Surrender your property to the government."

2. Because we have no gun registration scheme in America, it would be hard to know who owns what. Many legal sales are conducted "off the books" (a loophole I agree we should close), and ATF Form 4473 - the form used when one buys a gun from a dealer - is governed under the Privacy Act of 1974. It would be illegal for those forms to be released to other law enforcement officials for confiscation purposes. And I suspect the courts would uphold that illegality, given the serious Constitutional issues involved.

3. What you propose would be massively expensive. This isn't Australia, where the number of guns involved was much, much smaller. If you generously assume that only 10M of the 250M-300M guns in America are "military style" (whatever that means*), then the government would need to buy back 10M weapons. Under the Fifth Amendment, the government would have to provide "just compensation" for each gun, defined in case law as "the market value of the property at the time of the taking contemporaneously paid in money." If we again generously assume a value of only $1,000 per gun on only 10M "assault weapons", that is $1 billion. And the actual value and number of those guns is likely much larger, so we're talking a few billion dollars here. Good luck getting Congress to allocate a few billion dollars for the purpose of confiscating legally owned property.

4. As a philosophical matter, what you propose - if it was not complied with - would immediately turn millions of U.S. citizens into felons. If you don't understand how extreme and draconian that is, then you have a problem that I usually only associate with the loony, far right. And speaking of compliance, many firearm owners (perhaps many millions) would simply not comply. What is the government going to do? Throw millions of people into prison? If you think we are politically polarized now, just confirm peoples' most paranoid fears of government confiscation of massive numbers of guns. The blowback Democrats would receive would be unprecedented, turning both Congress and the Presidency into GOP hands for years to come.

So no Gerald, I don't think most Americans would support this. I'm all for dialogue and suggesting solutions, but your solution is not particularly well thought-out. It is not grounded in political reality, and is thus a non-starter.

* What is a "military style" weapon? AR-15's and the like are semi-auto rifles, mechanically no different from a Ruger 10/22 squirrel rifle or most modern hunting rifles. They are different only in two regards: they look like military rifles, and they can accept high capacity magazines. Banning high capacity magazines - something I suspect is likely - would make them "less military style", leaving only the looks of the rifle as "military style". And if you think banning a gun based on looks makes for good public policy, well...let me just politely say I would vehemently disagree.

Open Dialogue, Western Lapland, Finland, cut the suicide rate there from the worst in Europe to the best, over 20 years. This is a program that works. It has cut medication use and disability as well. There is a video of how it works on-line, and many in Portland, Oregon, are learning about it from Will Hall and The Process Center, here. The conventional way we have been treating emotional challenge in the U.S. has not worked. We have increases in all kinds of dysfunction, as documented by Robert Whitaker in Anatomy of an Epidemic. Self-harm and other-harm stem from the same kind of pain and isolation. Shoving meds at somebody is addressing this in a dysfuctional way.

Those who keep obsessively talking about guns are fueling sales of guns at Walmart. Is this really what you want?

JadeQueen, I agree that there should be a much stronger focus on mental illness. While some wish to focus on guns as the problem, I believe that mental illness and the state of our culture and society play a far larger role. These problems are multifaceted and complex, and those looking for simple solutions are bound to be disappointed.

And yes, it is no small irony that the talking heads who are having a field day discussing new bans, are themselves becoming the most prolific gun salesmen of 2012. Every firearms retailer in America is out of stock right now, with many claiming that they have set new all-time-high sales records in the past week. Production lines at the several hundred firearms manufacturers in America are now running 24/7. Even people who had never before thought of buying a gun are now thinking to themselves, "Hmm, if I might ever want such a gun in the future, I had better get it now." The end result will be literally millions of new weapons - many of them "assault weapons" - in public hands.

To the many talking heads who have massively contributed to this circumstance, I would utter a perplexed "Congratulations". I wouldn't be at all surprised if the National Association of Firearms Retailers awards you its annual "Salesmen Of The Year" award. Oh irony of ironies.

question everything has posted the most level headed response I have seen. Stop the fear mongering using a tragic event, unless you want to guarantee another Republican controlled "Bush era". That is the only thing that will be accomplished by the Dems pursuit of a gun ban. Irrational fear has no chance of producing any reasonable solutions. Democrats not only proceed at their own risk, but the risk of all of us.

The two most dangerous instruments in American society are 1) automobiles and their variations (pickup trucks, minivans, et al; and 2) guns. Yet driving an automobile is considered a "privilege," where people have to be tested and retested, and people can have all kinds of restrictions or endorsements added or removed from their driver's licenses, such as wearing glasses, driving at night, driving under the influence of alcohol and drugs, or to contrast, being allowed to drive a commercial truck, bus, taxi, etc.; and gun ownership, which because of the second amendment of the U. S. Constitution, is a "right" to ownership. No age restriction, medical restrictions, no type of weaponry restrictions. The only exclusion are people with a felony conviction (whatever good that has ever done), and in some states, there are restrictions in their "conceal and carry" laws for people with known mental illnesses. That doesn't mean that these people can't own a gun. They just can't get a license to conceal and carry. Then there are the ridiculous stickers and signs on store and school windows that "warn" gun users, felons, and everyone else that "guns are not permitted on the premises." Is this a deterrent to a felon with a gun who wants the contents of the cash register in a business?

The problem is the Second Amendment of the U. S. Constitution. No ifs, ands, or buts are needed to explain this. We do not live in the eighteenth century frontiers and we are not being attacked (please excuse) by "savage injuns" or the "redcoats." We are simply shooting each other, our family members, friends, fellow hunters (a la Dick Cheney), and on occasion (less than 10 percent of the time) an actual intruder, home invader, person who is trying to rob us, or even an invader to our land (which is what the original intent of the Amendment was supposed to deter).

There is no mention of protecting ourselves as individuals against criminals in the constitution. Neither is hunting or fishing mentioned nor implied. The only group that is named is "a well-trained militia."

At the time, the militia meant all able bodied men (not women). Today, the "well-trained militia" in this country are the armed services, national guard in each state in the union, and law enforcement agencies: national, state, and local. People serving in these capacities become well-trained in the care, use, and circumstances for the use of firearms. Para-military groups have arisen across the country claiming to be "well-trained." The truth is, these people are only trained in defensive tactics and are reactionary groups whose origin is paranoia. They should one and all be sought out, rounded up, and institutionalized from coast to coast to coast.

Then there's the "conceal and carry" gangs. I don't keep track of the number of states across America that have legalized this idiocy; but I know people with a license to "conceal and carry." These people become obsessive compulsive with their guns, and can be found any weekend at any of the hundreds (thousands?) of gun shows that are allowed to be held in every state in this country, and practically every county in every state, during the course of one year. Gun shows are proof that there has never been an economic depression in this country, as the cost of guns has skyrocketed in the past twenty years, as has the cost of ammo. Yet gun owners don't stop at one or two. These people tend to accumulate an arsenal in their homes. Two of the statistics that were released this past week was that 1) there are more than 300 million guns in people's homes across America; and 2) 47 percent of all American households have guns. Since the average household has approximately 4.3 people living in it, then these 300 million+ guns are in approximately 34.4 million homes - almost nine guns per gun owner's household! This is insanity.

So, my conclusion is that gun owners are all insane; and by this, since they want to get guns out of the hands of the mentally ill, then they all need to surrender their guns. Then rewrite the Second Amendment of the U. S. Constitution to change the word "right" to "privilege" and give the "right" to bear arms to no one.

Coldnebraskanite,

As I was reading your post, I was thinking, “I am going to craft a long, well-written, thoughtful response to this tour-de-force of nonsense.” After all, you’ve presented us with several errors of fact; errors that I commonly see from people who know nothing about guns, but seem to be quite vocal in their opinions of same.

But then your last paragraph stopped me dead in my tracks. Because when you concluded that everyone who owns a gun is insane (presumably including the millions of gun owners who are liberal or left of center), that immediately told me that you are not at all interested in having any kind of serious or credible discussion on the issue. With that comment, you followed a page right out of the Michael Savage school of “debate”, whereby if you can simply marginalize your political opposition by claiming those people are mentally ill, it saves you the trouble of having a serious and intelligent discussion.

Thank you for reminding me that the far-right does not have a monopoly on fringe, loony semantics.

Why are there guards at banks, malls, and other places where the public gather? Why is everyone screened magnetically and otherwise at public events? Wayne Lapierre may be a galactic moron, and armed guards at every school (how many more schools are there than banks?) may be prohibitively expensive for school districts, and we all see teh quality the feds have hired for the public facing TSA security, so there are no answers there.
But since the highest casualty incident at schools in the USA was a BOMB long before we HAD assault weapons, I have little confidence that any sort of gun control will stop this in our society.
I am also confident that since the 2nd amendment is NOT about hunting, SCOTUS WILL overturn any attempt made out of FEELINGS to limit the rights (like it or not) of the vast majority of law abiding and responsible citizens to have guns.
Our problem is that we lack the diagnostic ability to find the tendencies towards this illness that we HAVE for cardiovascular disease and cancers. The objective nature of the results of such tests and the treatments and their success continue to grow. This is the place for moneys to be spent.
We know that certain DNA specifics reveal tendencies to violence when coupled to abuse. This is the coarsest kind of diagnosis imaginable. Until we have tests as revelatory and inarguable as LDL levels, stress test results, and cardiac echoes, NOTHING will stop determined, intelligent and deranged individuals from finding a way to carry out mass casualty attacks against the most innocent among us, at the expense of their own lives and for reasons we can barely understand. ... in this free and very open society.
Fertilizer and fuel oil?
Ammonia and other freely avails explosive ingredients?
Insecticides as precursors to to VERY evil weapons?

Thanks Cooper5. Your question is a fair one.

First, I don’t think there is a single, broad answer that is applicable to every country. Let’s start with Australia, as their gun laws are now some of the toughest in the world. In recent days, both proponents and opponents of gun control have said “Look at Australia…it proves what we’re saying!” Both sides of the issue are mostly cherry-picking data that supports their view, and ignoring data that doesn’t. I’ve researched this myself, trying to sort the truth from fiction. As far as I can tell, with most of the studies that have been done in Australia, the party funding the study had a “dog in the fight”. There has only been one independent study done on this issue in Australia. It was a 2008 study by Wang-Sheng Lee and Sandy Suardi of Melbourne University's Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research. They concluded, “Despite the fact that several researchers using the same data have examined the impact of the NFA on firearm deaths, a consensus does not appear to have been reached. In this paper, we re-analyze the same data on firearm deaths used in previous research, using tests for unknown structural breaks as a means to identifying impacts of the NFA. The results of these tests suggest that the NFA did not have any large effects on reducing firearm homicide or suicide rates." (source for this is Wikipedia.) There are other studies, but as I said, each of those was done by a group (pro or against) that has a dog in the fight.

These findings in Australia have been replicated here in America. Several non-partisan, independent organizations in America such as the Congressional Research Service, the Library of Congress, the National Academy of Sciences, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and others have conducted studies on whether gun control, and specifically bans, reduce crime or other injury. In addition, the Congressional Budget office was tasked with researching whether the assault weapons ban in America between 1996-2004 had any impact on crime and murder rates. All of these studies have determined that there is no causal link between gun control and gun violence. (I have cited these studies below.) And in fact, as gun ownership has increased in America, the overall level of violent crime and murder have fallen dramatically in America.

So, I guess you could say I don’t accept the premise that banning guns leads to drops in violent crime. Looking back to Australia for a second, it’s interesting to note that when they banned guns, crimes involving guns did decline by 47%. However, overall violent crime rose by 42% during that same time. While I hate to borrow one of the NRA’s talking points (I am not a fan of the NRA at all), it may not be unreasonable to assume that the risk profile for committing a violent crime goes way down when you know that the law-abiding person you are going to commit a crime against has been legally stripped of his ability to defend himself with equal force. (It really is true that criminals don’t obey gun control laws. The only people who obey such laws, are those who weren’t going to misuse their guns in the first place.)

All this aside, it is useful to remember that America is unlike every other country with strict gun laws. We ALREADY have 250M-300M guns in circulation…a condition that has not existed in any other country that has attempted to reign in gun ownership. It is much easier to implement gun control when, comparatively speaking, there aren’t a huge number of guns to begin with. Short of confiscation, which as I wrote earlier is in my opinion not a political reality, this horse is already out of the barn. Even if you did accept the premise that fewer guns would equate to less crime (and based on available evidence, I’m not sure that I do), I think that banning any guns at this point would be akin to spitting in the wind.

In addition, and unlike most other countries, we have Constitutional guarantees to gun ownership in America. Don’t get me wrong…I fully understand that no Constitutional right is absolute, and that there can be limitations placed on such rights. The extent of those limitations will need to be determined by our political and legal systems, and – ideally- should be made based on facts and evidence, and not emotional pleas to “do something..anything!”

In addition to all of this, those other countries are in many ways different from America. Their cultures, populations, traditions, views on government, etc., make comparing what they’ve done vs. the U.S. a complicated if not impossible analysis. Simply put, it may be likely that many of the dynamics in those countries which have reduced crime, simply aren’t present in America. I don’t mean to sound morbid, but it may be as simple as the notion that those other cultures are, in the aggregate, simply less likely to kill or commit violent crimes than we are here in America. If true, that points to other societal and cultural flaws that we need to tend to here in America.

At this point you may be thinking, “OK, QuestionEverything, so are you suggesting that we just throw our hands up in the air and do nothing about guns? Is that your ‘solution’?”

No. I would support the following actions on guns:

1. Make background checks mandatory on ALL sales. And develop some mechanism so that mental health records are checked. If you are mentally ill and are trying to buy a gun, the public has a right to know that.
2. Devise a system so that gun owners have to be licensed, just like drivers have to be licensed. To obtain a license, you MUST take a training course (a real course, not just some BS 4-hour class). During that training, the instructor (who him or herself must be licensed as an instructor) will have the authority to “fail” a person for exhibiting any symptoms suggesting that gun ownership may be questionable for them. There can be an appeal process for a “failure”, whereby perhaps trained personnel can evaluate whether this person really presents any danger.
3. Throw the book at anyone who uses a gun in a crime. Very severe mandatory minimums, with no parole, no exceptions. When criminals know that robbing a 7-11 with a gun carries a mandatory minimum of 30 years without exception, I guarantee they will think twice.
4. Require gun owners to own a safe, and to keep all guns locked up when not in active use. There can be an exception for those who want to have one handgun available for emergency use. Their license would need to add this as an “endorsement” after they receive proper additional training on handgun use.
5. Hold gun owners civilly liable for crimes committed with their guns, to the extent their own carelessness abetted the crime.

I can think of a few more things, but THOSE actions – rather than banning guns – would I think go a long way towards solving some of these problems as relates to guns. And it would do so without violating anyone's Constitutional rights.

And lest anything here think I’m a NRA shill or something, note: what I just suggested above is deeply, DEEPLY unpopular with the NRA. In fact, they would call me a “gun and freedom hating liberal” for daring to even suggest those things. It’s kind of funny that many who are against gun control think I’m “too liberal on gun control”, and many who support gun control think I’m “too conservative on gun control”. That has always suggested to me that I’m probably onto something... :)

Although again, I think our problems are much deeper than guns. What I've suggested here only deals with one small part of a much, much larger problem.

Sources:

*Roth, Koper, et al., "Impact Evaluation of the Public Safety and Recreational Firearms Use Protection Act of 1994," Urban Institute, March 13, 1997; Reedy and Koper, "Impact of handgun types on gun assault outcomes: a comparison of gun assaults involving semiautomatic pistols and revolvers," Injury Prevention 2003; Koper et al., "Report to the National Institute of Justice: An Updated Assessment of the Federal Assault Weapons Ban: Impacts on Gun Markets and Gun Violence, 1994-2003," June 2004; Wm. J. Krouse, "Congressional Research Service Report for Congress, 'Semiautomatic Assault Weapons Ban,'" Dec. 16, 2004; Library of Congress, "Report for Congress: Firearms Regulations in Various Foreign Countries," May 1998, LL98-3, 97-2010; Task Force on Community Preventive Service, "First Reports Evaluating the Effectiveness of Strategies for Preventing Violence: Firearms Laws," Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, Oct. 3, 2003; National Research Council, "Firearms and Violence: A Critical Review," National Academies Press, 2005

Nice article, Mr. Kuttner. While the problems are multiple, having millions of guns floating around adds nothing to the solution. I've lived overseas now for about 18 years, 15 years in Japan and 3 years in Taiwan, and can honestly say that there is MUCH more actual freedom here than in the U.S. How so? Well, folks have the freedom here because of the lack of guns NOT to have to think about unnecessary problems regarding the possibility of guns being all over the place. If a woman wishes to walk to the convenience store at 3 a.m. the notion that they may be shot by some gun-wielding idiot who is angry because his reality TV show was canceled, or whatever equally as lame reason he might have, simply does not arise. And rest assured, people here absolutely do NOT feel their "liberties" and "freedoms" are being deprived do to the absence of this perceived "right". They feel free precisely due to the absence of the right, nor would they even think about supporting any politician who was ignorant enough to bring it up.

But perhaps I have a solution for those who sleep with pillow cases covered in little "Guns don't kill people. People kill people." scribbles all over them. Instead of banning guns, let's just ban the people who want them. There. Problem solved. The guns can just sit on the Bible next to the Budwiser on the coffee table, and if there's no one around to use it, well, then there's nothing to worry about. Personally, I think that anyone wanting a gun has already demonstrated that they should be disqualified from having one, as they probably have some deep seated, or perhaps not so deep seated, desire to use one anyway. This alone makes them psychologically unsound and a potential threat.

Kropotkinbeard,

As with "Coldinnebraska" above, you seem to be another person who doesn't want to have a serious and credible conversation about the subject. When you assume that everyone who owns a gun is a mentally ill, Bible-thumping, Budweiser-swilling troglodyte, well...it's indicative of the elitist, arrogant attitude that so often does not serve liberals well. Including and especially with the issue of gun control.

And you should understand that in America we don't have a "perceived" right to own firearms. We have an enumerated right in our Constitution. It's there for a reason, and I would encourage you to read the Federalist papers and some of the recent scholarly writing on the topic to better understand it.

Which is really the problem is is mental illness or guns? I think this kind of issue is very important for every citizens in our country how to deal this problem. Since it started with mental illness then I will agree with this kind of theory. Then what must we should do with person with mental illness since this is very hard to identify them particularly if that person has just start to loss his mind. I think guns can be only be given to people who are mentally pass the test. However, since this issue is very broad the important thing our authorities must deploy securities and patrol personnel in every area 24/7.

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