Many of the discussions about mass shootings rightfully point to mental health problems as a root cause. As difficult as it to have rational gun control without trampling on the rights of lawful gun owners, trying to proactively identify and stop people with mental health issues from committing crimes presents even greater difficulties.Let’s start with the question of how such a person is to be identified. Who is authorized to decide that a person has an issue? A therapist? A teacher? A coach or clergyman? A next-door neighbor? Do we provide them special training? If so who pays for this training? Do we absolve them of legal liability should their judgment be found to be incorrect? How exactly does one report a mentally unstable person? Do we call the police? Will there be a 1800 number? Fill out a form or send in an email? Will there be someone to screen these reports and decide which is frivolous and which are legitimate? Who will do this and under what standards?After being notified that a suspected mentally ill person may pose a danger, what are the police or authorities to do? Shall they arrest and involuntarily incarcerate the person? Will there be a requirement for evidence? Will the person’s home be searched? Will there be a requirement for a search warrant? If the person is involuntarily committed to a psychiatric hospital who pays the bill? Will the person be compensated if they are found to be free of mental illness?The potential for abuse in such a process is frightening. Are you a pissed off at your next door neighbor because his dog pooped on your flower bed? He does own a few guns and has been acting a little twitchy lately, why not call him in? How will his employer react when they find out he has been involuntarily committed as a suspected mentally unstable person at risk of committing mayhem? Maybe his wife will freak out and file for divorce out of fear. Maybe he will lose his position as a Little League coach because they cannot risk having a mad man around the kids.If you think people in this country dig their heals about second amendment rights, just wait to see the reaction to a process like this. I support strong mental health care, and we are reaping the consequences for years of cutting corners in our mental health care system. We need to dig deep into our collective pockets and fund programs that help those with mental health problems. But imagining that the solution to mass killings is to somehow tag people ahead of time with mental health problems is simply not realistic. This is not to say that when we see a person who seems to be in psychological trouble that we should not do something, we should respond as best that we can, within the limits of the law. A person cannot be incarcerated or restrained without protecting their rights and following the due process of law.One idea did however occur to me, how about having the sellers of guns and ammunition having the power or even the responsibility of refusal, similar to a bar tender refusing to serve a drunk? Perhaps a tax on ammunition could be used to fund training for arms dealers so that they can better identify the signs of mental instability. It’s not a perfect solution but I would think such a program could help prevent a few tragedies. The solution to mass killings will not be one single thing, it will be a program of many overlapping measures, and even then it will not be 100% effective. At this point I would be thrilled if we could prevent even one of these events.
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