Mental Illness and Guns

After the Virginia Tech shootings last week a lot of people have been making a big deal of the fact that the guy who purchased the guns had a history of mental illness, and that “people with mental illness shouldn’t be able to buy guns.”

The whole idea of mental illness is still very subjective and so this logic still returns to the fact that people with guns is a bad idea.

Homosexuality was defined as a mental illness until 1973. While nowadays people don’t really accept that and if you ask most people who say “people with mental illness shouldn’t be able to buy guns” (I’m thinking of someone faily liberal like Bill Richardson, who made the comment about mental illness that inspired this post during last night’s debate), they would have no problem with gays buying guns… but that’s because times have changed.

Let’s say some bill is passed and somehow “people with mental illness” cannot buy guns. Now lets say in 50 years or so there is some big religious war and some new religion or who knows what is behind it. Then lets say that a conservative president appoints conservative-minded people to whatever association decides what is and isn’t mentally ill. Next thing you know that association finds some “mental link” between mental illness and religion X.

The point of this is, defining mental illness is very inprecise. It’s a subjective label that might be helpful for doctors and psycologists, but not for making policy decisions.

Look, if I was in charge, I wouldn’t hesitate declaring “bigotry” as a mental illness. Racism, homophobia, sexism, etc. — I honestly and truthfully think that people who hate someone because of some innate trait have mental issues. I also, personally, think that there could be a connection between religion and mental illness. But that’s the thing — who am I to decide?

This whole “people with mental illness shouldn’t buy guns” thing is just an excuse. The problem is guns. While I want to be in favor of any little thing that gets more guns off of the street, I find it hard when the underlying premise is still “Guns are OK.”

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