The NRA's spokesmen have chosen to fixate on the mentally ill as the cause of all our problems with gun violence. In itself it's unusual that they choose any particular group to throw under the bus; after all, the author of the one gun control bill they've endorsed, Senator Lindsey Graham, their A-grade, reliable vote for guns and against gun control, is on record voting for lax regulation on mentally ill veterans, allowing more of them to have guns.
So, why the sudden focus, the vicious attack on the mentally ill? Why demand that we look here and not elsewhere? I'll give you three guesses but you should only need one. Pay no attention to that gun behind the curtain...
Graham signed Veterans 2nd Amendment Protection ActJust a few years ago, Graham is on record supporting the preservation of gun rights for such individuals as these, with veterans as the cover -- after all, who wants to do anything bad to veterans? Except that he doesn't seem to care as much now. The text of his new bill shows a change in the standard from 'mental defective' to 'mentally incompetent.' And yet in 2009, he didn't seem to see it as a problem. And Graham can't claim ignorance; mass shootings and the like have occurred since long before 2009, as this Mother Jones timeline shows.
A bill to amend title 38, United States Code, to clarify the conditions under which certain persons may be treated as adjudicated mentally incompetent for certain purposes [including 2nd Amendment rights].
Prohibits, in any case arising out of the administration of laws and benefits by the Secretary of Veterans Affairs, considering any person who is mentally incapacitated, deemed mentally incompetent, or experiencing an extended loss of consciousness from being considered adjudicated as a mental defective for purposes of the right to receive or transport firearms without the order or finding of a judge, magistrate, or other judicial authority of competent jurisdiction that such person is a danger to himself or herself or others.
The NRA supports Senator Graham's proposal and claims to want more records related to mental health to get into the NICS database. Although there's still no clear way how the federal government can mandate this. The best that can be done, it seems, is to encourage states by providing funding for better record-keeping.
The Economist also points out some examples of the NRA's notably harsh rhetoric of late. It goes well beyond concern (trolling) into outright demonization. Not to mention how it ties into the NRA's general narrative of our society as some kind of scary, post-apocalyptic dystopia. Here's one quote from Wayne LaPierre.
We have no national database of these lunatics... We have a completely cracked mentally ill system that's got these monsters walking the streets.I don't think that anyone would put up with this kind of malignant rhetoric here, but I see the same concern simply masked, softened. Presented with as much moral righteousness and high dudgeon as possible. I observed one such derail in one of my diaries earlier in the week, where a discussion of gun violence was shifted to suicide and the mentally ill, under the pretense that gun control advocates don't care enough about it.
Now, I've written about guns and suicide before, and I know that gun enthusiasts are aware of this because they stop by to say hello. So I recognize a derail when I see it. This is of a piece with the NRA's efforts to focus the discussion -- and the legislation -- on the mentally ill, and away from guns and gun manufacturers.
This focus might seem safe enough, but it's not. According to this viewpoint from JAMA back in February, there are risks to the NRA's chosen emphasis:
The first is overidentification; the law could include too many people who are not at significant risk. The second is the chilling effect on help seeking; the law could drive people away from the treatment they need or inhibit their disclosures in therapy. The third is invasion of patient privacy; the law amounts to a breach of the confidential patient-physician relationship. Mental health professionals already have an established duty to take reasonable steps to protect identifiable persons when a patient threatens harm. However, clinicians can discharge that duty in several ways, as the situation demands, often without compromising a therapeutic relationship that depends on confidentiality. For example, the clinician could decide to see the patient more frequently or prescribe a different medication. Voluntary hospitalization is also an option for many at-risk patients.Just from a public safety standpoint, driving people away from seeking mental health treatment can only exacerbate the problem that the NRA and its Republican allies in Congress claim they want to solve. Beyond that, if we care about these people and want them to get the help they need, we don't want to drive them into the shadows by singling them out as the source of all our woes, or by calling them monsters! The Economist interviewed Professor Jeffrey Swanson, the writer of the quoted JAMA article, to get more details. And while there are dangers to an excessive emphasis on mental health policies to address gun violence, the professor points out one area where it could do much more good.
In one area—suicide by gun—mental illness plays a very strong role, Professor Swanson says, and closer supervision could do real good, despite the risks. In 2010 suicide accounted for 61% of gun-injury deaths in America.
The relationship between easy access to guns, and suicide -- and murder, for that matter -- is clear. That's what the NRA does not want anyone to talk about. And when all else fails, they will distract, and demonize, and lie...
Opponents of gun controls may respond with familiar flurries of statistics. In Hartford, for instance, several pro-gun demonstrators cited the same talking point, claiming (falsely) that home invasion rates soared in Australia after that country banned the most powerful forms of guns in 1996, following a mass shooting. Actually, home break-in and robbery rates have fallen sharply in Australia since 1996, as have gun-death rates, with no corresponding rise in other forms of homicide.The Economist writer backs this up with statistics from a credible source (as opposed to ex recto), and with a real money quote they wrote just after the mass shooting in Newtown:
America’s murder rate is four times higher than Britain’s and six times higher than Germany’s. Only an idiot, or an anti-American bigot prepared to maintain that Americans are four times more murderous than Britons, could possibly pretend that no connection exists between those figures and the fact that 300m guns are “out there” in the United States, more than one for every adult.That's the kind of bigotry exhibited by the NRA, however. Against Americans in general as they deny the clear connection between gun proliferation and gun violence; and against the mentally ill, an easy target, an easily dismissed and maligned minority.