The New Republic just posted a piece called “Closing the Gap” in which the author proposes a sort of No Buy List to prevent people with mental health problems from buying guns. He suggests a law to “require all public entities, as well as all organizations that receive public funds, to file a report on any affiliated individuals (e.g., employees or students) that they deem to be public mental health concerns.” These reports would be added to the database currently used to conduct background checks on gun buyers to ensure that disturbed people don’t buy guns. This is a very, very bad idea.
The author is pursuing a good goal (limiting the ways people with serious mental illness can get access to guns) in a way that has the potential to put a huge burden on vast numbers of people and could have tremendous unintended consequences. He’s exactly right that “The right to own a weapon in America is not absolute.” So let’s put the burden on people who want to buy guns. Expand the requirements to include not just a background check, but a cursory psychological evaluation. If you want to buy a gun, you have to get someone with a medical degree or a master’s in psychology to sign a piece of paper saying you’re not a danger to yourself or others. Not that difficult, right? “Hi, doc, I need a refill on my blood pressure meds, and a scrip for a Glock.” “Ok, Mr. Smith, here you go.” So it might take a day or two – fine. Why do you need that gun today anyway?
Or, as others have pointed out, require a basic gun safety class. If the shooter couldn’t make it through remedial algebra without setting off alarm bells, it’s extremely doubtful he could have passed a basic gun safety class.
But don’t, for the love of Brigid, set up a national system where anybody can write up a report on anybody else saying that they’re crazy. Especially don’t make it a mandatory reporting requirement! Even if the contents of that database were kept confidential, even if it wasn’t abused for purposes of petty revenge or simple malice, this idea proposes placing the burden of proving oneself perfectly sane on individuals who aren’t trying to get guns, just because they interacted with someone who works for an organization getting public funding. In other words, the proposal suggests turning most of the country into amateur psychologists examining everybody else. If I trigger concern in even one of this untrained multitude, then I have to go to the trouble of getting an expert opinion that I’m in my right mind, just to clear my name.
Perhaps I’m more sensitive to this because I struggle with depression. Admitting to mental illness is hard enough, without the additional worry that I’ll end up in some database somewhere tagged as “crazy” for the rest of my life. Getting proper treatment depends on recognizing symptoms. Those symptoms are stigmatized enough as it is. Don’t make it worse.
And perhaps I’m more sensitive because I believe in magic. I worry, sometimes, about saying certain things about my worldview, because I might be thought crazy by others. A few months ago, I was visiting a local coven’s gathering place, and in the process was trying to park my car in a controlled-access garage. The garage attendant asked me why I was there. I told him who I was visiting and said vaguely that it was for a “workshop.” He accepted that, and I got in. I heaved a sigh of relief that I didn’t have to explain further: the workshop was for making scrying mirrors. Really, how would it sound if I said, “Oh, I’m here to make a magic mirror so that I can see the future?”
At any rate, as we struggle to find ways to climb the Witches’ Pyramid, to know, to will, to dare, and to be silent and reflect on our actions and their results, this proposed reporting system is one step we can reflect on ahead of time and realize we do not want to take.