We now have one of the first of twenty-three promised “gun-violence-curbing” executive orders from President Obama. This one encourages mental health practitioners to report any patient information to the FBI which would disqualify that patient from owning a gun under Federal law:
While the 1993 Brady law prohibits gun ownership by individuals who have been involuntarily committed, found incompetent to stand trial or otherwise deemed by a court to be a danger to themselves or others, federal health care privacy rules prohibited doctors and other providers from sharing information without the consent of their patients.
Under the rule, which takes effect next month, for the first time health providers can disclose the information to the background check system without legal repercussions.
In other words, mental health patients no longer have the right to privacy. How long do you think it will take before this permission to report mental health problems becomes a requirement to report? I imagine it will take no time at all. So what, right? It’s not like anyone thinks we should hand guns to insane people. I get that. But there are so many potential problems with this. Let’s run through them:
First, it might discourage people from seeking professional help for their mental illnesses. If you feel like your mental health situation might get reported to the FBI and put you under scrutiny as a potential suspect in future gun violence, are you even going to try to get help?
Second, there are any number of reasons why someone might be “involuntarily committed.” And many of them are not valid. I imagine that number will rise. What if the federal government decides that libertarianism is a mental illness? Don’t laugh. In 2009, Harvard Law had a conference to analyze the “free market mindset” with the assumption that it signaled mental instability. As a Cato Institute writer opined:
In the good old days of Soviet dictatorship, the regime classified dissidents as being mentally ill (after all, only a nutcase would fail to see the glories of communism).
Now that leftists at Harvard want to portray laissez-faire philosophy as being somewhat akin to a mental disorder, maybe the next step will be re-education camps for Cato staff? Maybe the next “stimulus” bill could include a few earmarks for such facilities? I’m keeping my fingers crossed that I get sent some place warm.
Third, if the law shifts from allowing to requiring disclosure of mental health information, the absolutely most private information you have would be reported to the FBI. There isn’t a way to obliterate your right to privacy more than that.
Fourth, the law will put undue pressure on healthcare practitioners to predict gun violence and “fix” the mentally ill. From a worthwhile article in the American Journal of Public Health:
Again, it is understandable that US policymakers, journalists, and the general public look to psychiatry, psychology, neuroscience, and related disciplines as sources of certainty in the face of the often-incomprehensible terror and loss that mass shootings inevitably produce. This is especially the case in the current political moment, when relationships between shootings and mental illness often appear to be the only points upon which otherwise divergent voices in the contentious national gun debate agree.
Our brief review ultimately suggests, however, that this framework—and its implicit promise of mental health solutions to ostensibly mental health problems—creates an untenable situation in which mental health practitioners increasingly become the persons most empowered to make decisions about gun ownership and most liable for failures to predict gun violence. Meanwhile, public, legal, and medical discourses move ever-farther away from talking broadly and productively about the social, structural, and, indeed, psychological implications of gun violence in the United States.
Fifth, the rule change relies on faulty assumptions about the connections between mental illness and gun violence. Again from the AJPH article:
Surprisingly little population-level evidence supports the notion that individuals diagnosed with mental illness are more likely than anyone else to commit gun crimes. According to Appelbaum, less than 3% to 5% of US crimes involve people with mental illness, and the percentages of crimes that involve guns are lower than the national average for persons not diagnosed with mental illness. Databases that track gun homicides, such as the National Center for Health Statistics, similarly show that fewer than 5% of the 120,000 gun-related killings in the United States between 2001 and 2010 were perpetrated by people diagnosed with mental illness.
So, yet again, this executive order is designed to make us feel safer, but it does nothing to actually make us safer. If anything, it strips away more of our liberty and privacy and pokes more holes in the already beleaguered Second Amendment. And this is just the first of twenty-three executive orders, people. Obama is beginning, not surprisingly, with the least controversial. And it’s already bad. Strap yourselves in.