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mental health mondays :: the wrong of rights

really, i should have posted this last week, since in the intervening time, the 24-hour news cycle has completely forgotten about the fact that a man went on a shooting rampage in washington. there was, for a few brief media moments, a discussion of whether or not the navy yard shooter should have been given the clearance he had to entire a u.s. military site, given that he had a history of violent outbursts and had complained of being tormented by voices. such discussions seem to have been an almost desperate attempt to avoid using yet another mass shooting as an opening to discuss gun control. that doesn't entirely surprise me, since the most recent move by the gun lobby has been to protect the rights of legally blind americans to own and carry firearms. that may seem bizarre, but on the other hand, it's just the logical [?] extension of a premise we hold true for all of our rights: that they apply equally to all people. in the case of the washington navy yard shooting, it seems like the media missed an opportunity to have an important discussion about whether or not all rights should apply equally to all people. maybe there are cases where your physical or mental defect should curtail your constitutional rights. it's a thorny issue, but as the death toll mounts from people who were known to have serious psychological problems carrying out mass shootings, the question needs to be asked:

should people with mental disorders have the same rights to gun ownership as everyone else?

there is plenty of evidence that even people with the most severe mental disorders are far less dangerous to others than they are to themselves [although that point in itself could be an argument against allowing unrestricted access]. and the vast majority of gun crimes are committed by people who do not have any kind of disorder. restricting rights to any group on the basis of their mental health establishes a flat-out dangerous precedent that sets the legal stage for the stripping of any rights on the basis that it is in the interest of public safety. you're creating a sub-class of citizenship that's defined by a health condition. scary stuff.

on the other hand, what's at issue is that people who have been diagnosed with mental disorders are not the best decision makers. and it doesn't have to come to hearing voices [normally a hallmark of advanced schizophrenia]; mental disorders often make people feel isolated and paranoid about those around them, feelings that can be amplified by the feedback loop that often marks disordered thought. others are prone to panic, their thought processes stuck in a sort of overdrive where the brain believes it is fighting for its survival. the ability to make rational, informed choices about when it is necessary or even advisable to fire a gun can be severely compromised in the disordered mind and it can be terrifyingly inconsistent.

in canada, there are restrictions to gun ownership based on a prior history of mental disorders, particularly if those disorders are linked to violent behaviour or threats of violence. but here, gun ownership is a matter of legal and not constitutional freedom. south of the border, it's a whole different ball game. 

living in canada, the question of mentally ill people having access to guns is not a daily thing for me, but that doesn't mean i don't worry about it for friends i have in the united states, or that i don't get angry that the overblown rhetoric around the subject blocks reasonable discussion from happening at all.

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