When “Mental Health” Is Used to Empower the State
by José Niño
Cries for gun control have reached deafening levels since the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland, Florida on February 14th, 2018.
Exploiting the tragedy that left 17 people dead, gun control advocates are using every means possible to ram gun control measures across legislatures nationwide.
One avenue that gun control proponents have pursued is the advancement of legislation containing mental health restrictions. Consequently, legislators at both the federal and state level have recently proposed extensive background checks and mental health screening processes to ensure that guns don’t fall into the hands of the mentally unstable.
For many gun control proponents, the current National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) is simply not enough and must be vastly expanded.
Even if we took these assumptions at face value, one must first ask the following question:
Are the mentally ill actually more prone to committing acts of violence?
In a 2016 study, “Mental illness and reduction of gun violence and suicide,” estimates indicate that only 4% of violence is associated with mental illness alone. Moreover, in the book Gun Violence and Mental Illness, author Liza H. Gold and Robert I. Simon highlight how the mentally ill are actually more likely be victims of gun violence instead of being perpetrators.
Despite the evidence to the contrary, why do gun control proponents insist on using mental health as a pretext to usher in gun control?
The reality is that gun controllers have encountered numerous roadblocks over the past few decades in their attempts to restrict, if not completely ban, gun ownership in the United States.
Now, the gun control crowd may have found a new tactic that might actually stick.
But what makes the mental health strategy particularly appealing to gun controllers?
Economist Ludwig von Mises shed light on the appeals to psychiatry as a means to discredit and quell dissenting views in Human Action:
Psychiatrists are vague in drawing a line between sanity and insanity…. However, it is clear that if the mere fact that a man shares erroneous views and acts according to his errors qualifies him as mentally disabled, it would be very hard to discover an individual to which the epithet sane or normal could be attributed . . . Then we are bound to call the past generations lunatic because their ideas about the problems of the natural sciences and concomitantly their techniques differed from ours. Coming generations will call us lunatics for the same reason. Man is liable to error. If to err were the characteristic feature of mental disability, then everybody should be called mentally disabled. Neither can the fact that a man is at variance with the opinions held by the majority of his contemporaries qualify him as a lunatic.
The Soviets understood this dynamic and added it to their tyrannical playbook.
In order to crush dissenting views, Soviet authorities deemed any individual that strayed away from orthodoxy to be mentally unfit. As a result, countless opposition figures were incarcerated or forced to go through psychiatric treatments on the grounds of mental illness. Mental illness not only served as a convenient pretext for authoritarians to use state coercion against individuals that they see as a threat, but it also gives them another tool that facilitates their consolidation of power over every nook and cranny of civil society.
The Soviet Union may be long gone, but the specter of its tyrannical tactics still reside among aspiring demagogues in the West. The weaponization of psychiatry and other medical venues against gun owners could be a reality in America if the gun control crowd has their way.
With the support of powerful organizations like the American Medical Association (AMA), which has publicly stated that gun violence is a “public health crisis,” gun control advocates can count on a reliable ally to expand their reach. Historically speaking, the AMA has a proven track record of repeatedly favoring top-down solutions to solve whatever perceived “crises” they face. There’s no telling what an unholy alliance of this sort is capable of if it successfully gains control of the levers of state power — the ability to turn doctor’s offices into de facto gun control enforcement agencies or have sensitive medical information at the federal government’s disposal could be all fair game if mental health focused gun control is passed.
Regardless of whether or not mental health is the main driver behind mass shootings, no government has the right to pre-emptively strip any individual who hasn’t committed a crime of their right to self-defense.
If certain firearms vendors want to screen potential buyers for mental disorders or a medical provider would like to inquire about a patient’s guns on a voluntary basis, they are within their right to do so. However, enterprises that engage in the restriction of firearms sales may find their actions to be unprofitable from a business standpoint.
Ultimately, the fixation on mental health in the wake of mass shootings overlooks the main causes of these shootings — the presence of gun-free zones and the lack of market incentives to provide adequate security services in schools across the country.
If passed, new mental health provisions could open up the floodgates for further interventions and possibly bar an unprecedented number of law-abiding citizens from owning guns. Policymakers and pundits alike should stop falling for the mental health smokescreen, and start striking at the root of the problem—gun control—when it comes to solving mass shootings in the United States.
TLB published this original article by Jose Nino from where it first appeared at MisesInstitute. (Mises Wire)
Mises Wire offers contemporary news and opinion through the lens of Austrian economics and libertarian political economy.