opinion: Mental health screenings for gun purchases could be a slippery slope
I believe that, here in the US, we have a violence problem not a gun problem. Media spin skews gun violence statistics by including individual suicides to arrive at their figure of 30,000 annual gun-related deaths. More than half of these (51 to 55 percent) consist of suicide by self-inflicted gunshot wounds. Crime and accidents account for the other half (45 to 49 percent)
Though statistically on the decline in recent years, violent crime has become so widely reported in our society that we are rarely surprised by its occurrence (whether or not a firearm is involved). The 24-hour-a-day news cycle ensures that even lesser incidents are publicized.
Courtesy of MLive
Most of us spend our entire lives avoiding people and places that may put our personal safety in jeopardy. Does someone make you nervous? You avoid them and attempt to keep them away from your sphere of influence. Do you visit the convenience store late at night for a gallon of milk? Though you might, it’s not a good idea due to potential risk.
Avoiding violent crime as an individual is far simpler than addressing and correcting its root causes. However, a discussion of those root causes - and what realistically can be done about them - is essential to the current, ongoing debate over Second Amendment rights.
I believe the larger mental health issue also must be central to that discussion. It’s become clear that our health care system allows many troubled individuals to drop through the cracks; lack of insurance coverage for mental health care, lack of funding for state facilities, and lingering stigma are all to blame.
I’ve found that there is little help available for people with mental health issues unless one has extremely good health-care insurance. Even then, it’s a constant fight to get coverage approval. That coverage is usually adequate for early diagnosis of noncritical cases and some initial medical treatment. However, critical cases quickly can result in violent episodes, criminal behavior, or suicide before proper treatment can be fully established.
Emotionally distressed persons remain among the most difficult threats to assess. Their contribution to violent crime statistics is equally difficult to determine. It has been suggested that a mental health database be added to firearm purchase requirements. This sounds like a good idea until you think about its implementation. How do you compile it? What level of incident places one on this list and for how long? Will this database and the potential stigma associated with it discourage individuals from seeking treatment?
I believe that if we add mental health screening to firearm purchase requirements, the benefits will be minimal because the mentally ill will find a way around this via theft or fraudulent purchase. Criminals already do so.
The proposed mental health database is a slippery slope for a variety of reasons and has potential for misapplication in other areas once it’s compiled, for example in job applicant screening.
The intersection of mental illness with violent crime is a dilemma that won’t be easily solved. However, awareness is the first step toward solving any problem. It’s time for all of us to take a realistic look at the prevalence of violence of all forms in our everyday lives. We can no longer afford to look the other way.
Alvin Walsh is a resident of Tecumseh, Michigan.