16 February 2018

Guns and the mentally ill

So, another mass shooting at a school, and the same memes go around. I mostly have nothing to say — wake me when Republicans decide that there’s something more important than NRA money. However, there’s one small point I’d like to make regarding memes going around about Republicans and Trump making it easier for the mentally ill to buy guns. Memes like this:

Random gun politics meme

Let me start with some positioning:

  1. Yes, the meme says “this year” when in fact the vote was a year ago.

  2. It is wrong to blame mass shootings on mental illness. Most people suffering from mental illness are no more likely to be violent than anyone else. Even for the specific mental illnesses which are associated with an increase in propensity to violence — bipolar disorder and schizophrenia — the increase is small unless substance abuse is involved.

  3. Mentally ill people are mostly a danger to themselves. The real problem around guns and the mentally ill is the suicide epidemic, though they’re also much more likely to be victims of violent crime.

  4. Even if mentally ill people were more likely to misuse guns, the US constitution does not allow for depriving them of their constitutional rights on that basis.

Now, on to the Obama-era attempt to restrict access to guns by the mentally ill.

The rule in question was issued by the Social Security Administration on 2016-12-19, and was supposed to take effect on 2017-01-18. Compliance was not to be required until 2017-12-19.

The text is long and dull, but basically it identified several classes of people receiving payments from Social Security who had a medical diagnosis of mental illness. One key instance was people who had been found not competent to manage their own affairs by reason of mental illness.

The intention was that this particular subset of the mentally ill be placed on the NICS background check list, and prohibited from buying guns. It was estimated that around 75,000 people would have been placed on the list.

The rule was a terrible idea for all kinds of reasons, not least because it likely wouldn’t have had any effect on gun violence, for the reasons mentioned above. It was opposed by the ACLU as well as groups advocating for the mentally ill, and rightly so. It was as bad an idea as the idea to turn the appalling no-fly list into a no-guns list.

The Republican vote is a much easier read — three paragraphs. You can find it as H.J.Res 40. It simply says that the SSA rule shall not take effect, as of 2017-02-28. That’s before the Obama rule’s mandatory compliance date.

Now, here’s my point:

“Reason” magazine and some other right-wingers are trying to claim that in fact, Republicans and/or Trump did not vote to make it easier for the mentally ill to buy guns.

Let me get some more nit-picking out of the way:

  1. Technically they probably didn’t make it easier for anyone, because technically the Obama-era rule wasn’t mandatory at the time and likely hadn’t been acted on.

  2. It’s true that Republicans didn’t make it easier for this particular mass shooter to buy guns. He wasn’t mentally ill and wasn’t receiving SSA disability benefits.

  3. There may be other reasons why the 75,000 wouldn’t have been able to buy guns anyway.

However, that nit-picking aside, and no matter how bad the original Obama rule might have been, it remains true that Republicans did vote to make it easier for those 75,000 affected mentally ill people who would have been covered by the Obama rule, to buy guns.

The Snopes article reaches the same conclusion. So the “Reason” article is a classic example of the headline claiming something which is not supported by the actual article.

A lot of text to make a very small point, right? If we’re talking tragic mental afflictions, the urge to point out bullshit must be one of the worst.

One final point: If you want to make pro- or anti- gun arguments online, start by watching Jim Jefferies’ standup routine on the subject. If your point has already been decisively mocked by an Australian comedian, maybe consider not making it.

© mathew 2017