Beware of "benign" gun control legislation

By John Watts

Don’t allow the punditry to fool you – serious gun control efforts have not lost momentum. Legislative efforts to restrict Americans from possessing firearms are not dead by any stretch of the imagination.

Predictably, a few senate Republicans have bowed to the conventional narrative that something needs to be done about gun violence and naturally Sen. Lindsey Graham is out in front of the pack, leading the way – the wrong way that is – on gun control.

Sen. Graham has introduced S. 480, the NICS Reporting Improvement Act of 2013, along with cosponsors Sen. Mark Begich, (D-AK); Sen. Richard Blumenthal, (D-CT); Sen. John Cornyn, (R-TX); Sen. Jeff Flake, (R-AZ); Sen. Dean Heller, (R-NV); and Sen. Mark Pryor, (D-AR).

The bill purports to “clarify” that anyone can be barred from possessing firearms and they will become registered in the National Instant Criminal Background Check System if they have “been adjudicated mentally incompetent or has been committed to a psychiatric hospital … by a judicial officer, court, board, commission, or other adjudicative body.”

The idea seems sensible enough, after all who would want to allow “crazies” access to firearms?

Unfortunately, as is often the case, a seemingly simple and commonsensical solution proposed by the government really won’t do anything to actually resolve highly complex social problems.

The problem is that most of the legislation Congress enacts often ends up being interpreted in wildly divergent, open ways that practically grant federal bureaucrats free reign.

This tendency, combined with the inherent difficulties with the theory and practice of the mental health field, could have a potentially disastrous impact on Americans’ cherished Second Amendment rights.

It has been a similar story throughout American history; a seemingly “necessary,” “practical,” and “reasonable” action is taken by government to infringe in a small way upon some citizens’ liberty. In the end, a ratchet effect takes place where every new emergency that was not prevented by the original legislation is an excuse to further curtail freedoms.

However, it will provide the government with the opportunity to deny certain Americans their Second Amendment right based on what is arguably a pseudo-scientific and characteristically arbitrary concept – that is “mental illness.”

That is not to say some people don’t have behavioral and psychological problems that cause dysfunction and suffering. Unfortunately, over several generations nearly all behavioral problems have been medicalized in one way or another on questionable empirical grounds.

Dr. Allen Francis, the head psychiatrist of the committee that created the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (4th edition) has even admitted that there is no concrete way of defining mental illness, saying that “there is no definition of a mental disorder. It’s bullshit. I mean, you just can’t define it.”

Other psychiatrists have been thoroughly disparaged for years and blackballed by their peers for bravely pointing out that the practice of psychiatry is unlike any other medical specialty. Perhaps the most trenchant critic of the field was Dr. Thomas Szasz, a psychiatrist himself.

Dr. Szasz forthrightly described psychiatry as a form of social control where certain individuals were tyrannized over by medical bureaucrats and backward court systems when their behaviors or opinions did not fit the perceived norm.

Coincidentally, Congressman Ron Paul was awarded the Thomas Szasz Award for Outstanding Contributions to the Cause of Civil Liberties in 2002.

After Dr. Szasz's death in late 2012, Congressman Paul had this to say in tribute. It is well worth the read.

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