On mental health and guns

HuffPo reports that Arizona allows anyone concerned about the mental health of another to report them to authorities to have them evaluated, even as they’ve slashed the mental health budget there. (Many other states are of course doing the same.)

But the key to recovering from mental illness is wanting to change. States can’t force that nor can they lock someone up for acting oddly. This is a good thing, as such detention power could obviously be abused. Some states can invoke a 72 hour mandatory psychiatric hold, but after that the person is free to leave.

Someone close to me was bipolar, went off her meds, ended up homeless and not in contact with reality. Friends got a 72 hour hold on her and it worked. Today, several years later, she’s recovered, and happily married with a responsible job. She really wanted to change and has worked hard at it – and takes her meds religiously.

In any big city you see people wandering around talking to the invisible people. Should they be locked up? Is there any possible way to know if one of them might pick up a gun and start shooting? Not to my knowledge.

My friend DJ says, look, you can kill someone with a machete too. Sure, but you can kill them much faster with a Glock with a 30 round clip and machetes are much harder to hide. On the other hand, he and I live in an area where guns are part of the culture and there’s practically no shootings.

We have a culture of confrontation now. That can obviously make for trouble if mixed with mental illness and guns. I have no easy answers. What do you think?


  1. Actually a 30-round clip is almost the size of a machete and much thicker, but that’s beside the point. More frightening is a ceramic folding knife I saw advertised in a surplus catalog this week. I would expect that such a weapon would pass right through metal detectors onto airplanes and into courthouses and schools. (We even didn’t have metal detectors when I went to school. Nor even when my wife went to Venice High.)

    Our nation now lives in a culture of fear. It justifies weaponry, laws against weaponry, civil rights violations, exceptions to the Constitution, police shootings, indefinite detention, warrantless wiretaps, a national ID card, a crackdown on small farmers– and the invisible to whom we don’t want to speak lest they attack us in a crazed frenzy.

    I well remember when a friend of mine (who shall remain nameless) came from LA to visit us over a holiday. Some horses got out of their pasture and were eating our trees, and since we didn’t know who owned them we called the Sheriff. Two deputies came out to deal with the situation. After they left, my city friend said, “That’s amazing! They talked to you without ever once putting their hands on their guns!” And this in a state where they can safely presume us to be armed, because almost everyone is. Yet they were not afraid.

    Here, just because someone has a gun does not mean they intend to shoot someone– quite the opposite. We have more guns per capita than almost any other state, and yet less gun violence than almost any other state. OTOH California, with its strict gun laws, has fewer guns and one of the highest rates of gun violence.

    I don’t hold with those who say an armed populace makes for a polite society– that’s a convenient and inaccurate generalization. So there must be something else going on here that isn’t going on in California. Utah is a solidly GOP state, but they don’t shoot Democrats here. (As yet, there’s no season on liberals.)

    Rather, I think the answer is a strong sense of community and respect for one’s neighbor. In California, we never knew pour neighbors. Here, we not only know them, we are available to them in an emergency – and they to us. Government services are limited in a small town; if we want to survive life’s inevitable crises, we have to rely on each other. When my land flooded, it wasn’t the government who came and helped me sandbag.

    Maybe that’s an argument for smaller government, maybe it isn’t. In the absence of a sense of community, less government seems to result in chaos. But in the presence of that sense of community, big government seems to be a detriment.

    So is it possible to get back that sense of community where it has been lost? We know it is – it’s been done in Sri Lanka, India, Thailand, East Los Angeles, and Chicago among other places. But it also takes work – and it can’t be forced. Much like an alcoholic who won’t get sober until things get really bad, people generally won’t do the work to rebuild their communities until things get really bad. And yes, like the alcoholic, lives get damaged or lost in the process – and sometimes that willingness comes too late.

    There is no perfect world. Life is not safe – it only ends one way. Those who would have us believe that all violence, accident, and behavior-related deaths can and should be eliminated are living in a fantasy. It is a worthy but unattainable goal, and one that must be tempered by Liberty. In a democracy, we don’t take away freedoms preemptively.

    I have the right to eat ice cream despite the fact that I have heart condition. I have the right to drink alcohol, even though I choose not to. I have the right to my freedom unless someone can show a compelling reason (such as criminal activity or imminent danger to others) why I should not have it. And, at least for today, I have the right to own a firearm unless and until I abuse that right.

    There will be people who harm themselves or others, either my intention, by mental illness, or by accident. That’s the risk of Liberty. We can minimize the risk: we can educate, we can build bridges between people, but without severe constraints on freedom we cannot make this world “safe”– and even with such constraints we can’t banish death. And I for one would not choose to live in a world where we tried.

    • That nameless person was of course me and what amazed was you either had a handgun in a holster or were cleaning a rifle when they drove up. Try that in LA and you’d probably get shot. And the deputies were friendly too.

    • Well, you can hide a Glock (with clip out) easily in baggy pants. I wouldn’t want to attempt to hide a machete in my pants. 🙂

      Thank you for a thoughtful comment. As sense of community would help enormously in solving the problems of our country.

  2. We currently have a fine example here on The Oregon High Desert, as heavily armed as anywhere else in the rural west, of the classic situation where guns end up more trouble than they were worth: recently a husband and father went downstairs to investigate noises possibly attributable to “an intruder” and when he returned to the bedroom his frightened wife shot him through the stomach.

    • Yikes.

      At a family reunion a few years back, someone jokingly asked, “How many people here have accidentally discharged a firearm indoors?” Several hands sheepishly went up, including that of a retired Marine colonel.

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