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'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, Ive been acquiring very credible evidence of peoples 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 dont 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 doctors 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 takesnever less than a weekand provided with a lawyer. A judge is brought to the hospital. At that point the patients 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.


Commenting Guidelines

in Massachusetts virtually any psychologist or psychiatrist seeking to restrain a dangerous person just completes a simple form . . .That is all well and good IF someone bothers to complete the form and send it. If they do NOT send the form, then the potentially dangerous person is never detained.From the reports I've read, THAT is one of the major problems in the Loughner case -- plenty of people observed bizarre behavior and had reason to have him evaluated, but no one bothered to take the steps to have that done -- they didn't "complete the simple form" or any form. They just said to themselves, "that guy is a dangerous nut" and avoided him themselves and left it at that. Consequently, no reports on file that would red flag a gun background check.The simplest mental health system in the world is not going to work if people don't implement even the simplest of steps.

An interesting and informative piece, until the last 3 paragraphs, where the author ventures beyond his competence, and sounds a little silly. "I'm told" that pistols enable citizens to protect themselves? I'm told? If you need to be told this, you're not competent to write about it. Curiously, the author then realizes that if only more Arizonians carried guns, the tragedy might have been prevented. Why does he put 2 and 2 together and get 5?

It's a prolate spheroid.Go Pats

I see the "usual suspects" jumped on this article which I though twas quite sound expeientially.Wonder what "competence" Mr. Proska has for his comments and what experience he brings.So much for engagement.

Mark: if you can't identify a figure of speech, maybe you're not qualified to comment. Sean: Thanks for giving me a new reason to root against the Patriots. Go Bears.

This was an excellent article. I especially liked the quip about nuclear weapons.

David--I agree Gault is anti-gun, but the only argument he provides is that not enough good guys own guns to protect us, ergo we need more gun laws. That makes no sense to me. The problem is Gault has no special competence in this regard. He has no formal training, and the only practical experience he appears to have is that one time he was called to help with a patient who had a gun, and it apparently spooked him. That's understandable, but why should we listen to him just because of that. How can we take the ending of his piece as anything more than an irritable gesture?MOS--I think if a citizen trained in the use of firearms had taken the killer down, that would not be vigilante justice, but heroism. It would appear even Gault might agree with that.

Bender is right that it was a problem that nobody took the steps -- which in Arizona are very simple -- to get Loughner evaluated by mental health professionals. Barry Gault doesn't seem to know that Arizona has the kind of system he thinks is a bad idea. See the article in Slate titled Anyone Could Have Requested a Mental Health Evaluation for Jared Lee Loughner. But one of the problems is that few in Arizona are actually aware they can report someone they suspect to be mentally ill and get that person evaluated.

Random thought #1: If the same approach were taken in incidents of gun violence as in airline safety, this incident would be studied for months to figure out exactly what went wrong, and measures would be enacted to prevent future occurrences.Random thought #2: The attitude among conservatives seems to be (and I will be happy to be corrected) that these things just happen, we already have more than enough laws and restrictions in place, and we should all just remain calm and accept it. The fact that there are between 18 and 19 thousand murders a year, and two-thirds of them are gun homicides, apparently is regrettable but something about which the law can't really be expected to do any more.

Grant--OK, I'll bite, what's the figure of speech and how does it have anything to do with my comment?David--I think the conservative response to your 2nd random thought is that is that one more gun law won't help, and would probably only serve to take weapons out of the hands of the good guys. As Mr. Gault argues, we need MORE good guys to have guns, and to use them when the situation calls for it.

Generally the good guys are supposed to be police officers and they seem to have all of the guns they need.MP: you seem to be promoting vigilante "justice." Go see "True Grit" for what that means.

As Mr. Gault argues, we need MORE good guys to have guns, and to use them when the situation calls for it.Mark,I think you are interpreting Gault to be saying the exact opposite of what he intends. He's saying that gun advocates claim gun ownership for self-defense is helpful, but in actual practice, it doesn't seem to work out that way. He says, "Whether its Colorado or Oklahoma, Arkansas or Massachusetts, whether its a day-care center, a post office, a shopping mall, or a school, where the hell are those citizen sharpshooters when we need them? No, pistols do infinitely more harm than good. They always will."Now, whether he is right or not is another question. Gun proponents argue that guns make us safer. Gun opponents argue that guns make us less safe. I remember (and just found) Archie Bunker's guest television editorial from an episode of All in the Family in 1972:

Archie Bunker: [on TV] Good evening, everybody. This here is Archie Bunker of 704 Hauser Street, veteran of the big war, speaking on behalf of guns for everybody. Now, question: what was the first thing that the Communists done when they took over Russia? Answer: gun control. And there's a lot of people in this country want to do the same thing to us here in a kind of conspiracy, see. You take your big international bankers, they want to - whaddya call - masticate the people of this here nation like puppets on the wing, and then when they get their guns, turn us over to the Commies. Now I want to talk about another thing that's on everybody's minds today, and that's your stick-ups and your skyjackings, and which, if that were up to me, I could end the skyjackings tomorrow. All you gotta do is arm all your passengers. He ain't got no more moral superiority there, and he ain't gonna dare to pull out no rod. And then your airlines, they wouldn't have to search the passengers on the ground no more, they just pass out the pistols at the beginning of the trip, and they just pick them up at the end! Case closed.

In 1972, the idea of arming all the passengers on airplane flights got a big laugh. Today I am sure there are many who would agree with Archie Bunker.

David N.: your second point is well taken.

". . . here are between 18 and 19 thousand murders a year, and two-thirds of them are gun homicides, . . ."Bob N. ==This is a horrifying statistic. 9/11 hqe qgou5 3,000 fatalities. So did Hurricane Katrina. Guns kill more than 5 times as many people here EVERY YEAR and we do nothing about it? Do people have so little grasp of arithmetic that they can't see that guns are more of a threat to more Americans than Islamist terrorists or Mother Nature?No, I don't know just what to do about it. But ignoring the terrible problem is no solution at all.

Grant and Commonweal editors (and, of course, Dr. Gault): thank you for this article. I particularly appreciate Dr. Gault's authoritative depiction of how the system for mental health delivery is broken. For too many years, state politicians have short-funded mental health services.

FWIW - I just emailed a person who, I hope, can inform me whether Illinois permits a report to be filed as is the case in Arizona. Were I to encounter anyone with erratic or bizarre behavior, I also wouldn't know whether and how I could initiate an evaluation.Do any of the attorneys or other folks who read this blog know what the legal exposure would be, were I to file such a report? In the case of reporting sexual abuse of a minor, Illinois' mandated-reporting law shield me from liability. Istm that a similar provision should be in place for reporting suspected mentally ill fellow citizens.

"Guns kill more than 5 times as many people here EVERY YEAR and we do nothing about it?"Ann - what should be done?

"we need MORE good guys to have guns, and to use them when the situation calls for it." I would prefer if nobody at all had guns, not even the good guys. Ahmadou Diallo and a lot of other people might still be around today if that were the case.

Jim P. ==I don't know what should be done. I know that it used to be that in England nobody had guns, even the police, with very, very few exceptions. But the culture changed, and now thte police do have guns. So is the problem a cultural matter? I suspect so. But how does one change a whole culutre? Part of the problem here, I think, is that there are some very ignorant people who distrust any findings of the "egghead" social scientists who study these matters. So the ignorant ones don't believe that guns cause more problems than they solve, nor when they say that a steady diet of violence in the media makes us tolerant of violence and even inspires it in many people. And, unfortunately, it's true that the social sciences often can't provide the sort of certainty about cause and effect that the hard sciences do --people are just too complicated. As with many problems, the solution is more or better education, but we don't want to pay for the quality of teaching that is needed. The education problem is a vicious circle -- the less educated we are the less we pay for schooling, except the very poor who know they are ignorant.When I say better education, I mean that kids will learn that education is not just being able to describe things and count them -- it's not about sheer facts, but it requires understanding causal relationships of all sorts, the nature of evidence and why scientific methods works, and why it sometimes can't work, plus knowledge of logic and common fallacies, not to mention the humanities. We really should have a thread or two sometime about improving education. We have the best graduate schools in the world. Why can't our lower schools be their equal???

In addition to gun homicides, there are gun suicides. Over half of suicides in the United States are committed with a gun. In 2007, there were 34,598 suicides in the United States, of which 17,352 were committed with guns. Those who argue in favor of gun ownership contend that if someone who committed suicide with a gun would just have found some other way to commit suicide without the gun. According to an article in the New England Journal of Medicine, the risk of suicide in households with guns is 2 to 10 times higher than in households where no gun is present.

Ann asks, "how does one change a whole culture?". Ann points out, correctly, that education plays a vital role. In just a couple of generations, we've transformed our culture's views on tobacco usage, primarily (I would argue) by educating our young. The inexorable math of generational succession assures that, over time, those who held to old cultural views die, and succeeding generations bring with them a different (hopefully better) view that becomes the cultural norm. Racial tolerance is another outstanding example. And now, more recently, concern for our environment and, we hope, tolerance for homosexuals. Surely, the Christian churches can play an important role in raising awareness and generating activity in favor of gun control. We should be talking with our people about responsible with guns. That seems to be a good example of how we can be salt for the earth.

When it comes to 'gun laws' I would (if I could), insist that everyone applying for a gun permit---would have to be fingerprinted. I'd make the law so strict that if you had any violation greater than an overdue book at the library or more than 2 minor traffic violations (like a ticket for a parking meter), they would be denied a gun permit.And Ann---I certainly agree with your comments on education.

I long for the day that our political and media figures get as indignant about innocent Americans killed by their own governmentkilled in fact, as a direct and foreseeable consequence of official government policy that nearly all of those leaders supportas they are about a government official who was targeted by a clearly sick and deranged young man.

I'm sorry, folks. While the article above discussed an important part of the equation, I've been hearing a lot of the Gun-Rights people lately on the media repeating their absurd mantra, "Guns don't kill people... people kill people" and it is driving me crazy.As far as I am concerned, the real mantra is 'Guns in the hands of people, kill people'.Since we cannot eliminate all the people on earth so that the gun's cannot be held liable for deliberate or accidental deaths, we can only hope to control guns.As a gun owner of many decades, I do believe in the Constitutionally guaranteed right to own guns. But, where do we draw the line? While I realize that this is the impetus behind the opening article, there are dozens upon dozens of other situations that are also not covered in the Constitution. They relate to; children playing with adults' guns... alcohol- fueled gun use... temper-fueled gun use... jealousy-fueled gun use... despair-fueled gun use... . Every day, people who would pass every test of sanity take up guns and kill other people.So, yes, in a sense, guns don't kill people, people USING GUNS kill people.However, I posit the argument that if there were NO GUNS (believe me, I shuddered as I typed that) and the means of exacting instant death on someone were harder to come by, there would be a great lowering in the amout of violent deaths in this country.Would there be NO violent deaths? No.Would more situations that now result in death be avoided? Yes.It is unfortunate that there is no way to remove all firearms from the US, and to ascertain without doubt that the Nation was 100% gun free. Because if it were possible, I'd give up my gun gladly. Any sensible person would. But in this nation, where protection of Life is not guaranteed, guns will continue to be an inevitable evil. Sad, that!

Ann--I'm all for a well-rounded education, but this would be on the syllabus too, right? It's written by a Ph.D. economist.

Jim P. --That's a very good idea to get the churches involved in educating people about gun control. But that will probably mean that a lot of people will withdraw their financial support of the churches, or some of them anyway. But at least the clergy could get some dialogue going.

Mark P. --Why should the opinion of one Ph.D. economist about gun control count for more than many, many social scientists who disagree with him?Does anybody have any data commissioned by police departments about the matter of gun control? It seems to me that the police should have some on-the-ground expertise for judging the value of the studies by theorists. In other words, whose statistics do the police trust and why?

I fear Mark supports only "competent" folks who support his view.It struck me that while much of this thread (properly) talked about weapons, the broader context of public safety in our democracy is the frame that really neds better attention.Ann's pressing for better education (especially when there's so much complaining about rights being violated) is germane.I noted the author talked about having to deal with sex offenders and the confinement of many -the result of horrific acts, consciousness raising and reaction thereto.Having dealt sometime back professionally with issues about managing these indivuiduals in the comunity while attempting to maintain a probability of public safety, I think the issue points to the the difficulty of the problem and how easily it gets politicized.I though tof our Church and the priest pedophiles and the bishops who protected them, even after stinging grand jury reports (e.g.Philadelphia). Now in Ireland, it appears clear that in the late 90's bishops were told by Rome not to report such individuals.I think we really need to rethink our views on public safety both politically and in the Church - beyond any ideologies we cling to in either.

"Why should the opinion of one Ph.D. economist about gun control count for more than many, many social scientists who disagree with him?"Ann--In and of itself, it should not. But I think a well-rounded education requires an interdisciplinary approach, reading and understanding many points of view, even those with which we don't agree. I don't think the majority should rule when it comes to science (or ethics, for that matter). If we're going to be good teachers, we first need to be good students, evaluating each argument on the merits, not on the popularity. That way we can resist the temptation to indoctrinate instead of educate.The author analyzes statistics similar to those you are looking for, and remember, I only asked if the book would be included on the syllabus (so there, Bob).Jim--Do you really think the Church should be preaching the gospel of gun control? Wouldn't that issue fall within the prudential judgment domain of the faithful?

"Do you really think the Church should be preaching the gospel of gun control? Wouldnt that issue fall within the prudential judgment domain of the faithful?"Mark P - I do! I don't think there is anything wrong with the clergy or other 'formal' parts of the church helping the faithful with their prudential judgments. To my mind, lobbying for prudent firearms policy is no different than lobbying for prudent immigration policy or abortion laws.We - all of us in the church - should be working to bring about peace and justice, and I don't think it's a stretch to say that responsible management of firearms is one aspect of that. There is a lot of violence in some neighborhoods in my diocese (Chicago), and there is no doubt in my mind that disarming the perpetrators would cut down on it.