Tuesday, December 01, 2015

Dealing with mental illness, crime, and guns

Liberal / progressive politicians are constantly trying to enact gun control legislation and some of them including Obama and Hillary Clinton would love to confiscate people's guns. They have effectively limited the size of magazines in some states; they have made it exceedingly difficult to ship guns.  They are trying to make it difficult for individuals to sell guns to each other.  They are trying to limit access to ammunition.

These are facts on the ground, that even the Democrats won't argue with.  In fact they boast proudly of it.

Fortunately, apart from some liberal infestations such as Boston, Chicago, D.C., and NYC, the majority of Americans oppose these kinds of actions, and the Supreme Court has repeatedly shot them down when they have been challenged.

A few things come to mind as the liberals / progressives continue to push their gun confiscation agenda.

In 1994, the Assault Weapons ban passed under President Bill Clinton.  That piece of legislation, now sunsetted into the history books and having had no discernible effect on crime even when active, was one of the big reasons the Democrats got their derrieres handed to them in the 1994 mid-term elections.

President Obama's past protestations about not wanting to take our guns is certainly accepted and excused by his liberal acolytes, apologists and worshipers.  They recognize that their pols need to tell lies in order to get past the unbelievers' obstructionism.

There are over 350 million guns in the country.  While every new firearm sale and every transfer through a licensed dealer requires record keeping, transfers between individuals do not.  So, apart from those jurisdictions that require registration, there's no way the government could effect an effective confiscation program without full compliance by the public.

Even if only one gun owner in 10 held back, there would still be millions upon millions of firearms in the hands of the public, and I'd feel safe in speculating that more than 1 owner in 10 might feel reluctant to hand 'em over.

NY State's attempt to get black guns registered seems to have about a 5% compliance rate. Connecticut's compliance rate is in the low teens.

The liberal gun grabbers can dream, but their more practical counterparts (including Hillary's strategists and "walk-back-ers") know that it's a sure loser of an issue.  Even should Hillary win the White House, I doubt she'd attempt a confiscation.

The eternally un-addressed or under-addressed observation - if the crime in places with strict gun laws is driven by people smuggling guns in from places with "lax" gun restrictions - why isn't crime higher in those lax places?

Why would criminals go through the trouble and risk of all that travel when they could simply "one-stop-shop" i.e. commit their crimes where they buy the guns. Might it be that they just might be aware that others in that "lax" area might have guns as well?

Of course, the trends support a robust concept of armed self-defense. In the past couple decades, 40 states have passed right-to-carry laws. Many to most have seen crime decreases, and not one has seen an increase.

But, gun control is one of those topics where liberal orthodoxy and their version of "common sense" trumps empirical data and history. The gun-banners "know" that allowing greater access to guns is certain to create crime, to turn the law-abiding into macho vigilantes, to prompt "old-west" style shootouts, and to greatly spike the number of people killed by their own guns. They "know" and argue these points by claiming that they're obvious - forget the facts or the statistics (which they dismiss either by attacking the source, declaring without evidence that they've all been fudged, or declaring (again, without evidence) that they *could* just as easily find stats that support their positions).

This reminds me of an old gag from college math and science classes - you start solving the problem, then write the answer and claim that it's "intuitively obvious." Too bad professors don't give credit for "intuitively obvious."

The problem with all the gun control laws and statistics is that there's really no null hypothesis. If guns were banned in total, 100% of the crimes would be committed by illegal gun owners. If there were no gun control laws, 100% of the crimes would be committed by legal gun owners.

Human behavior has far more to do with it than anything else. If a criminal seeks to accomplish something, he's going to do it if motivated enough. However, guns can deter a spontaneous event, I believe.

Long story short, guns in the hands of the responsible will either do no harm or possibly help. Guns (or anything else for that matter) in the hands of the irresponsible and criminal element will do no good or do harm.

To me, that is the simple truth about gun control. It's government trying to fix a problem, except the problem is a symptom and not the source of the problem to start with.

Americans aren't stupid, contrary to what liberals / progressives might think. The District of Columbia has all kinds of strict gun controls, and yet they also have the nation's highest per capita gun violence.  There are places with few or no gun controls, which are middle of the pack or low in gun violence.

Gun violence is largely an ethnic and socio-economic problem and not related to the existence of and access to guns themselves.  Chicago, Illinois is also a strict gun control haven, yet there are dozens of shootings every week in the city, a problem that the Democrats strictly avoid talking about because they don't wish to offend the black voters and their white liberal allies.

Too many people are assuming that comprehensive gun legislation -- which is to say, strict controls and monitoring of all legally sold firearms, would have an effect on the behavior of people who illegally obtain weapons.

Given comprehensive registering of all legally purchased weaponry, if someone steals a hunting rifle out of your gun safe and uses it to shoot a store employee during a hold-up, and if that person is caught, and if the rifle is also recovered, and if they didn't scratch off the serial number and other identifying information, then the firearm will be traceable to you.

That's a lot of "ifs" and on top of that, what should happen to you, the innocent owner who was robbed of his legally purchased hunting rifle?  Go to prison for 20 years?  Some people actually advocate for this, their thinking being it would be a huge deterrent to anyone purchasing any kind of firearm, and thus firearms would all be destroyed out of fear they would be stolen and cause the purchaser to go to jail.

This is the kind of perverted thinking that the NRA and others have been opposing -- holding innocent people responsible for the criminal behavior of others, something that is fundamentally contrary to the Bill of Rights.

If liberals / progressives can think of a way to dis-incentivize criminals from shooting guns, and a way to remove the desire to mass-murder from the criminally insane, then please do share it with the rest of us.

I can think of ways, and they have been outlined above.  We have to get at the roots of the problems here which are two-fold:  failure to identify and treat the mentally ill starting in the teen years, and failure to address socio-economic problems in the areas of our cities where the most gun violence takes place.

There should be better scrutiny of children with mental illness during K-12, especially during the high school years when sociopathic tendencies start to become more pronounced. We might not stop every future rampage but at least we can better try to identify them and get them the treatment they need early on.

There should be more hospitalization of the mentally ill.  De-institutionalization and mainstreaming have failed.  Tens of thousands of homeless individuals in our major cities ought to be a sign that something is wrong with our system of treating the mentally ill.

State institutions were closing during the Reagan years, but not because of any particular Reagan policy.  The trend toward mainstreaming and de-institutionalization was begun in the late 1960s, when a new wave of psychiatric thinking suggested people were not benefiting from involuntary incarceration for mental illness.

The problems arose when the institutions were closed but there was no real alternative that was ever presented.  Halfway houses in mainstream communities where the mentally ill could reside were not a big hit with the neighbors, and many of the mentally ill proved incapable of magically healing themselves.

Now the states no longer have these big psychiatric residential facilities, no longer have the funds budgeted for them, and the tens of thousands of homeless, most of whom are mentally ill, are left to their own devices.

But, that's not even the source of most of these mass murderers, who tend to be reclusive shut-ins living in a basement, watching violent videos and plotting a way to act out their delusions.  These kinds of people need to be identified during the K-12 years, when it's possible to give them some treatment to protect them from harming themselves or others.

We have to face the fact that some percentage of our society, perhaps 10% (nami.org estimates 18% which is 45 million people), has a debilitating mental illness and must be treated, or they may become a danger to themselves and others.  At the very least, we should try to help such people to become productive citizens rather than just wasting away in their parents' home, living on disability payments and achieving nothing.

It's ridiculous to focus on the guns while virtually ignoring the underlying mental health issues that are responsible for most of the mass murders, serial murders, and other intractable violence.

Were it possible to wave your magic wand and make all guns disappear from the world, then yes, you could temporarily halt all shootings, until people made some new ones or found alternative methods to commit mayhem -- homemade bombs, for example.

This kind of fairyland thinking appears to be the basis for liberal / progressive public policy, that if we could just ban the guns, we wouldn't have to do the hard work of seeking out and treating the potentially violent mentally ill among us, not to mention the hard work of going into the urban areas where most of the gun violence occurs and arresting the bad guys, and trying to rectify the massive economic dependence that has been foisted on that population by misguided Great Society initiatives.

Demonstrably, most mass shooters are mentally ill who require some kind of treatment other than just shove them out on the streets after high school and forget about them.  Most mentally ill are not violent, but a few are dangerous to themselves and others.  Mental illness is a real thing that must not be swept under the carpet.

These are very difficult problems that are not made easier by ignorant partisan rhetoric like "anti-abortion statements incite violence" and "too many guns".

As for "domestic terrorism", the real 800 pound gorilla in the room is the fact that most gun violence takes place in the urban and were it not for this extremely violent population of young males in gangs that is perhaps 1% of the country, there would be no debate about gun control because our per capita gun violence would be about the same as Canada's and Western Europe's.

The fix for gun violence is two-fold:  first, address mental illness with better public policy, better treatment alternatives including long term incarceration.  Secondly, address the socio-economic issues that have led to a breakdown of society in the urban areas, gang violence, and the lack of economic activity in those areas.  We should among other things try tax-free zones in the urban areas to encourage massive investment and provide a career path for youth other than drug dealers and street gangs.

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