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My Turn: Should people with mental illnesses own guns?

  • In this photo taken Wednesday July 17, 2013, gun enthusiast Dennis Tolentino, fires a 1911 TCM caliber 45 pistol at the firing range of Armscor, the Philippines largest gun factory, at their plant at suburban Marikina city in the outskirts east of Manila, Philippines. The factory makes about 70 types of guns from pistols to rifles including15,000 handguns per month for export mainly to the United States and 59 other countries and produces about 12 million ammunitions a year for different calibers. (AP Photo/Bullit Marquez)

    In this photo taken Wednesday July 17, 2013, gun enthusiast Dennis Tolentino, fires a 1911 TCM caliber 45 pistol at the firing range of Armscor, the Philippines largest gun factory, at their plant at suburban Marikina city in the outskirts east of Manila, Philippines. The factory makes about 70 types of guns from pistols to rifles including15,000 handguns per month for export mainly to the United States and 59 other countries and produces about 12 million ammunitions a year for different calibers. (AP Photo/Bullit Marquez)

  • General manager Steve Alcairo holds an HK USP 9mm handgun while being interviewed at High Bridge Arms Inc. in San Francisco, Wednesday, Dec. 19, 2012. Anxious parents reeling in the wake the Connecticut school shooting are fueling sales of armored backpacks for children emblazoned with Disney and Avengers logos, as firearms enthusiasts stock up on assault rifles nationwide amid fears of imminent gun control measures. At Amendment II, sales of children's backpacks and armored inserts are up 300 percent. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

    General manager Steve Alcairo holds an HK USP 9mm handgun while being interviewed at High Bridge Arms Inc. in San Francisco, Wednesday, Dec. 19, 2012. Anxious parents reeling in the wake the Connecticut school shooting are fueling sales of armored backpacks for children emblazoned with Disney and Avengers logos, as firearms enthusiasts stock up on assault rifles nationwide amid fears of imminent gun control measures. At Amendment II, sales of children's backpacks and armored inserts are up 300 percent. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

  • In this photo released by the Portland Police Bureau shows a replica firearm recovered a crime scene Wednesday, Jan. 25, 2012, in Portland, Ore. Portland police say a man they shot and killed Wednesday morning had a replica handgun he pointed at them. The police say the man, 21-year-old Bradley Morgan, was on the roof of a parking garage, where he called 911 and said he wanted to be killed by police officers. He threatened to jump. (AP Photo/Portland Police Bureau)

    In this photo released by the Portland Police Bureau shows a replica firearm recovered a crime scene Wednesday, Jan. 25, 2012, in Portland, Ore. Portland police say a man they shot and killed Wednesday morning had a replica handgun he pointed at them. The police say the man, 21-year-old Bradley Morgan, was on the roof of a parking garage, where he called 911 and said he wanted to be killed by police officers. He threatened to jump. (AP Photo/Portland Police Bureau)

  • Handguns fill up a trash can for recycling at the LA Memorial Sports Arena in Los Angeles Wednesday, Dec. 26, 2012. Los Angeles police offered groceries for guns in a buyback program that was moved up in the wake of the Connecticut tragedy. Weapons can be turned in with no questions asked. Handguns, rifles and shotguns can be exchanged for $100 Ralph's grocery store gift cards. An automatic weapons will earn a $200 card. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)

    Handguns fill up a trash can for recycling at the LA Memorial Sports Arena in Los Angeles Wednesday, Dec. 26, 2012. Los Angeles police offered groceries for guns in a buyback program that was moved up in the wake of the Connecticut tragedy. Weapons can be turned in with no questions asked. Handguns, rifles and shotguns can be exchanged for $100 Ralph's grocery store gift cards. An automatic weapons will earn a $200 card. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)

  • In this photo taken Wednesday July 17, 2013, gun enthusiast Dennis Tolentino, fires a 1911 TCM caliber 45 pistol at the firing range of Armscor, the Philippines largest gun factory, at their plant at suburban Marikina city in the outskirts east of Manila, Philippines. The factory makes about 70 types of guns from pistols to rifles including15,000 handguns per month for export mainly to the United States and 59 other countries and produces about 12 million ammunitions a year for different calibers. (AP Photo/Bullit Marquez)
  • General manager Steve Alcairo holds an HK USP 9mm handgun while being interviewed at High Bridge Arms Inc. in San Francisco, Wednesday, Dec. 19, 2012. Anxious parents reeling in the wake the Connecticut school shooting are fueling sales of armored backpacks for children emblazoned with Disney and Avengers logos, as firearms enthusiasts stock up on assault rifles nationwide amid fears of imminent gun control measures. At Amendment II, sales of children's backpacks and armored inserts are up 300 percent. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)
  • In this photo released by the Portland Police Bureau shows a replica firearm recovered a crime scene Wednesday, Jan. 25, 2012, in Portland, Ore. Portland police say a man they shot and killed Wednesday morning had a replica handgun he pointed at them. The police say the man, 21-year-old Bradley Morgan, was on the roof of a parking garage, where he called 911 and said he wanted to be killed by police officers. He threatened to jump. (AP Photo/Portland Police Bureau)
  • Handguns fill up a trash can for recycling at the LA Memorial Sports Arena in Los Angeles Wednesday, Dec. 26, 2012. Los Angeles police offered groceries for guns in a buyback program that was moved up in the wake of the Connecticut tragedy. Weapons can be turned in with no questions asked. Handguns, rifles and shotguns can be exchanged for $100 Ralph's grocery store gift cards. An automatic weapons will earn a $200 card. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)

Should people with mental illnesses own guns? The shooters in the recent massacres in Newtown, Conn.; Aurora, Colo.; Tucson, Ariz.; and Virginia Tech (and many more) all had mental illnesses. If we could have kept guns out of the hands of those individuals, then those tragedies would never have happened. On the surface, it seems pretty obvious that people with mental illness should not be allowed access to guns.

But the category of mental illness is pretty large. Many people have varying degrees of mental illness from Alzheimer’s dementia and autism, to bipolar disorder, depression and schizophrenia to name just a few. The vast majority of them take their medication and are well controlled, but often patients stop their medication out of a belief that they are “cured” and no longer need to be treated. Should every category of mental illness be an exclusion to gun ownership?

Statistically, people with mental illness are more likely to harm themselves than to harm others. Take depression for example. Seven percent of all Americans suffer from major depression (21 million), according to the Brain and Behavior Research Foundation. And 19,000 of those commit suicide by firearms, representing half of all suicides in America, according to a 2010 National Hospital Ambulatory Care survey. Should we take guns away from every American diagnosed with major depression if 0.1 percent commits suicide with guns? Should we exclude gun ownership from people diagnosed with any depression?

For starters, we can start by screening people for mental illness and monitoring their treatment program. However, 20 percent of our population has no health insurance and use only emergency room health care. Emergency rooms are not set up for screening, and even the best have a limited system for monitoring follow up. Here in New Hampshire, we have cut funding to the inpatient and outpatient mental health facilities so that screening and monitoring treatment are “luxuries” in a system unable to keep up with crisis management.

Even if we had a system that could identify an individual who is likely to harm himself or others, we have no laws to remove legal access to firearms.

Apparently, in the eyes of most lawmakers, people with mental illnesses have as much right as everyone else to own a firearm. In fact in Florida, doctors can be arrested and jailed for even asking a patient if they own a firearm.

Rather than focus on guns, we need to focus on the people most likely to use a firearm to harm themselves or others. But that means we need to enact legislation, like Medicaid extension, that increases access to health and mental health facilities.

It also means that we need to enact legislation that takes firearms out of the hands of those individuals identified as dangerous to themselves and to society. Our law enforcement agencies have a tough enough time tracking down illegal firearms; we should help them by decreasing the number of legal gun owners they have to worry about.

Finally, we need to restore funding for mental health screening and treatment (and treatment monitoring) in
New Hampshire. That might mean a small increase in taxes, but it would be more than offset by increasing the number of taxpayers in our workforce.

An untreated mentally ill person is on Medicaid, but a treated person is able and willing to work and pay taxes. Restoring mental health funding will also decrease the risk of another Newtown or Aurora here in New Hampshire.

Please note: If you are depressed or know someone who is depressed, see a doctor and get treatment. If you or a loved one is depressed and has a gun (or several guns), then have a friend or family member store those guns safely until you (or your loved one) is successfully treated and monitored.

(Dr. James Fieseher is a family physician in Portsmouth.)

It's not really a question of mental health that is the issue here. The bigger issue is that in this day and age it is necessary to have an excuse for all actions. Killing someone in our society is outside the norm and as such shows the ability to coexist in society has been compromised. Ergo, anyone that kills anyone outside the law is mentally damaged in my mind. It is our need to be able to affix blame and categorize events where we start to fall apart. If someone is not competent to control their behavior we should not make excuses when it comes to our response. I realize this is somewhat draconian in nature, but we have created a society that is to eager to pity those that can't live with the rest of us. Yes Sail, I mean the whole spectrum conservative to liberal. We have to stop making allowances based on perceived metrics, because yes the spectrum of mental health issues is far too complex with far too many possible factors to adequately address. Instead of restricting based on mental health issues we should simplify things and base them on the ability to understand the responsibility of gun ownership. However, how that determination is made should be left to Sail.

"individuals identified as dangerous to themselves and to society" - is this not the definition of people that should be housed in institution? SO, is there are problem?

Anyone who tries to rationalize an irrational act will pretty much immediately trip over facts.

That would eliminate all democrats from owning a gun

I don't think it's a good idea to let someone wacky, packy.

Who gets to decide who is mentally ill? Your doctor, the state, the police? I might have a bout of depression, perhaps due to some financial stress at home, family, kids, work, etc. should that preclude me from owning a firearm? It might sound insensitive to some, and it isn't intended that way... but what right do we have to say someone can't end their own life? It is a futile effort to try to prevent every single action of violence. Instead of depriving law abiding citizens of rights, our legal system is designed to require "triggers" before someone can be arrested or deprived of some right. We cant deprive someone of a right BEFORE a crime is committed without causing some other type of harm or action. More people are killed by other ugly things, yet you don't see cars banned. You don't see alcohol banned or cigarettes banned, because those contribute to more deaths than firearms on an annual basis. Don't take away my rights because of a few.

If progressives had their way, that would be anyone who does not think as they do.

Financial stress, family, kids, work etc seem to be the reason most mass killers kill. I don't even understand your logic here. Is there no criteria for not allowing people to own guns? Children are allowed guns, blind people are allowed guns. Cars are not made with the exclusive reason to kill to shoot and kill and it is ridiculous to keep making that comparison. I have always heard "guns don't kill people, people kill people" and yet here is another example of giving guns to people may use them to kill.

No. You are drawing conclusions based on your opinion. It is likely safe to say that most people feel stress at times over finances or life in general, it should be easy for the media to report on mass shooters that they were stressed in the weeks or months before they shot. You conclude these are the reasons most mass shooters shoot but you have no evidence to back up your claim. You have conveniently left out stuff like evidence of acute psychiatric illness, such as hearing voices and talking back to them, such as is the case in the Aurora and VTec shootings, to start with. Most people with the usual problems life brings on them don't pull the trigger. Rather, it likely takes a mind that is very ill, extremely irrational. Often the signs are there, but nobody wants to get involved. Other shooters act because of anger, such as the typical workplace mass shooting. Kill the boss and any one else in the office. I guess you could say it is stress, more accurately it is an anger management disorder. There are people out there who don't have the skills to reign in their anger. There is no single common factor involved in what makes these people do what they do, which makes stopping these crimes all but impossible.

Most people draw conclusions based on their opinions. Look at how the tea party types have drawn the outrageous conclusions based on just their opinions about Obama. I did not mean that all people who have stress are going to shoot people, but most people who are reasonably happy in their lives do not decide to kill. So what is your point? That some people that can't handle the stress and anger in their lives will go out and kill and others won't, and all we can do is cross our fingers. Even some people who have been involved in domestic abuse are given their guns back. Some one some where has to have some common sense. I will not believe that "makes stopping these crimes all but impossible." If they didn't have the guns it would be possible to stop these crimes.

Tillie, apparently your mind is too narrow to understand the broader scope here. Mental illness is a very hard thing to define. If you look at history 75-100 years ago, self pleasuring of genitalia was considered mental illness, and you could be placed in the insane asylum as it was called. You can't lay a blanket down like this without unintended side-effects. Our laws were not designed to prevent, rather to deter. Most laws (please note the word most) are consequence based and do not come into play unless a you did something. That is the way it should be. Your belief that every peril in human nature should be prevented is what breathes life into being a nanny state, which I vehemently oppose at every opportunity. We don't want a Nanny State here in NH. I don't want a Nanny State here.

So my mind is narrow because I don't agree with you? There you go again. What has the history of mental illness 75 years ago got to do with anything. Children died from polio 50 years ago. Hopefully we have progressed in our treatment of mental illness. What you are saying since we don't know who with a mental problem will commit mass murder so better to err on the decision to give everyone a gun. I have nothing against people owning guns, I just don't understand the point that there can't be any restrictions at all. There is no agreement here and I am on the losing side(no one can fight the NRA) so just enjoy your triumph and do not denigrate people who do not agree with you.

Well, guns are used to prevent violence many more times than to cause violence. In fact the best estimate (included in CDC report) is that 2.5 million times every year a gun prevents a violent crime. So, you base assumption is wrong to start with. A gun is a tool nothing more or less. And you may use a bomb or a hammer or a car to kill, so what is your point?

On another note . . . why are there no captions underneath the last two photos . . . ? ? ?

Interesting column. As to the author's point that, "But the category of mental illness is pretty large. Many people have varying degrees of mental illness from Alzheimer’s dementia and autism, to bipolar disorder, depression and schizophrenia to name just a few." While this is very true, it is also true that the categories by which we currently disallow people access to firearms are very broad. For example, according to Federal law - you can't have access to firearms if you've had a domestic violence ruling against you. So that means, the 50 year old who was involved in a bad relationship 30 years ago which resulted in a brief restraining order against them - even though it may not have had anything to do with firearms - is in the same boat as the career wife-beater and rapist. that's painting with a pretty broad brush if you ask me. Another example of laws that are overly broad are the so-called "Jessica's laws." These would put on equal footing the 40 year old career violent sex offender and the 18 year old high school senior who dates a 15 year old sophomore. Overly-broad laws are just plain bad. But alas, our limited judicial and political systems conspire to pigeon-hole us into one-size fits all categories.

Better question...should people with mental illness make laws about guns????

Can't argue there.

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