The tricky mental illness rationale for gun control

by John McCkaughry

The cry has gone up to “keep guns out of the hands of people with mental illness”. What may sound reasonable, says Jacob Sullum of, “casts an unmanageably broad net into the wrong ocean.”

Federal law currently disqualifies from purchasing a gun only those who have undergone forcible psychiatric treatment, based on a legal finding that they pose a danger to themselves or others. That rule is already unreasonably broad, since it means that someone who poses no threat to other people—someone who, say, is committed for treatment because his relatives think he might be suicidal—is not allowed to exercise his constitutional right to armed self-defense, even decades later.

Survey data indicate that half of all Americans will qualify for a psychiatric diagnosis at some point in their lives, while a quarter of them do in any given year. The question is whether the Florida school shooter Nikolas Cruz could have been thwarted by a policy that goes further than the current rule, but not as far as disarming one-half or one-quarter of the population.

A California law enacted in 2014 allows a police officer or an “immediate family member” to seek a “gun violence restraining order” that prohibits an individual from possessing firearms and authorizes police to seize any he currently owns. That leaves a lot of leeway to unjustifiably deprive people of their constitutional rights, whether out of malice or out of sincere but mistaken concern.

John McClaughry is vice president of the Ethan Allen Institute.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

William Hays February 24, 2018 at 5:14 pm

California has to have the stupidest gun-control laws on the books, among other laws. Illinois and New York aren’t far behind. Vermont should not change its law. Gun-control is not the solution, except for certified loons and felons.


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