‘Lay that pistol down.’
Before you settle in for a long day of giant men smashing each other while chasing an oblong ball, be sure to read Barry Gault’s “Lay That Pistol Down: It Wasn’t Our Mental-health Laws that Enabled Loughner. It Was Our Gun Laws.” Gault takes issue with William Galston’s argument for stricter mental-health laws.
For over forty years as a practitioner and as chief of psychiatry at a large community hospital, I’ve been acquiring very credible evidence of people’s mental disturbance pretty much every day. Triage clinicians are called to the emergency department round the clock to evaluate psychotic cases, and the large group practice I belong to sees one hundred new patients every month. But so many patients certainly would not seek us out if we ran tattling to the police every time an irrational person said something menacing.
When we do sense imminent violence, however, the law poses no problems. I don’t know about Arizona, but in Massachusetts virtually any psychologist or psychiatrist seeking to restrain a dangerous person just completes a simple form known colloquially as a “pink paper,” and faxes it to the police. They transport the patient to a hospital where he can be held for at least three days on the admitting doctor’s say-so. During that time, if the patient continues to be adjudged dangerous, the hospital requests a commitment hearing. The patient is then detained for as long as it takes—never less than a week—and provided with a lawyer. A judge is brought to the hospital. At that point the patient’s right to due process is honored.
The system for dealing with violent patients is fraught with problems, but not because of the law. It is nonviolent patients and their families who suffer most from the libertarian tenor of the laws on involuntary treatment that concern William Galston.
Read the rest right here.