(They’re Not Veterans or Social Security Recipients)
In “Who Are the Mass Murderers?” (executive summary: an infinitesimal, unpredictable fraction of the population), we reviewed the characteristics of mass murderers, insofar as there are any common ones. We need to keep in mind the “infinitesimal” attribute. According to a new Congressional Research Study, only 0.004 percent of all deaths, or 0.66 percent of murder victims occur during mass shootings. That’s less than 2% of all non-firearm murder victims. Overall, the odds against being killed in a mass shooting in the United States are roughly 517,000 to 1! (And let’s remember that statistics don’t account for shooting attempts interrupted by legal gun owners. In those, people are far less likely to be shot at all; and when they are, the numbers of victims don’t rise to the 4 casualties that define “mass shooting”.)
It can also be useful to turn the question around: Who isn’t likely to be a shooter? It’s important to be clear on who are not likely murderers, mass or single, and indeed with any weapon, so as to avoid unfair restriction of civil rights. Licensed concealed carriers of handguns are certainly not potential killers; they are “extremely law-abiding”.
The latest unconstitutional, broad-brush attack on Second Amendment rights by the Obama administration has come from a Presidential Memorandum to all federal departments to report people with “subnormal intelligence, or mental illness, incompetency, condition, or disease” to the National Instant Check System (NICS). This has already been implemented by the Veterans’ Administration (VA) disallowing the possession of guns by any veteran who has been diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) or who has even voluntarily been designated incompetent to manage his or her own finances, 177,000 of them so far. Perhaps needless to say, there are no due process or appeal safeguards built into the decision making. It is amazing how efficiently the VA acts to deprive veterans of basic constitutional rights when it has been so ineffective at fixing its own corruption and providing timely medical services to the same veterans who depend on them.
Next, the Social Security Administration (SSA) has stepped up to review as many as 4.2 million beneficiaries likewise using representative payees for prohibition in the NICS. Other agencies will not be far behind. The directive also named the Departments of Defense, Health and Human Services, Homeland Security, Transportation, and “such other agencies or offices as the Chair may designate.”
On behalf of veterans, Congress is deliberating the Veterans Second Amendment Protection Act. Just last week, Senator John Cornyn (R-Texas) introduced S.2002, the Mental Health and Safe Communities Act with NRA support. This bill would enhance mental illness treatment resources and would eliminate the possibility of labelling someone “mentally defective” through a bureaucratic process and require true adjudication by a court, with the requirement of participatory due process. It would require notification of veterans who have already been so labelled because they do not manage their own financial affairs, with ready review of that decision. It would also establish avenues of appeal for anyone who should no longer qualify for NICS prohibition on strict mental illness grounds that must include potential dangerousness. At the same time, it incentivizes states to fully report their data on prohibited persons to the NICS in order to improve its accuracy in identifying those who should not be allowed to pass the check.
It’s a pity that steps like these should be necessary, but we’re fortunate that many legislators still recognize the importance of rule by law to ensure the rights of Americans. NICS reporting should be consistent and complete by all states, even while there are many false positives in the checks which need to be eliminated. Gun Violence Restraining Orders prohibiting firearm possession when acute concerns arise can be appropriate, applied with due process and the right to ready appeal. According primacy to individual rights while strengthening the safeguards in place is the right way.
Worry about people who have major mental illnesses (paranoid schizophrenia, major depression, severe combat PTSD) and have violent ideation who are not treated or who are treated inadequately. Worry about people who are actively using or addicted to abusable drugs and alcohol. Worry about people who commit domestic violence. Worry about people with records of violent crime, gun-related or not.
Don’t fear people suffering any mental illness, even those who have sometime required commitment to a hospital. And those in treatment are even less liable to violence (see here regarding antipsychotic medicines, here about antidepressants). People who’ve been convicted of non-violent offenses years ago are not particular risks and should not be prohibited. And there is certainly no reason to fear those who just need help managing their money.
There are no excuses for infringing the rights of the vast majority of Americans. And that vast majority of Americans are the same ones who should be trusted.
— DRGO editor Robert B. Young, MD is a psychiatrist practicing in Pittsford, NY, an associate clinical professor at the University of Rochester School of Medicine, and a Distinguished Life Fellow of the American Psychiatric Association.