Here we are, in the wake of another mass shooting. This time at the Navy Yard. And here we are again talking about what we can do to prevent these things. And here we are again just bullshitting until we can get away with not doing anything.
Anyway, among do-gooders who have come to realize that there's not going to be any gun control legislation and among gun owners who are horrified about all the violence but don't want to give up their guns, there's this idea that "mentally ill" people should not be able to own guns. They want some kind of list that gun sellers can check against and, if you're on it, you can't get a gun.
This is never going to happen. NEVER.
There are two main reasons why.
1. It's not just that you can't tell whose dangerously mentally ill and who's just mentally ill, though that is true. Lots of people have mental illnesses. There are a lot of people with mental illnesses and guns and nothing bad ever happens. But it's because the line between mentally ill and not mentally ill is not that obvious.
Take a symptom that we all might agree indicates you are too crazy to own a gun — you hear voices that tell you what to do. That sounds bad. But what if it's your pastor standing up in front of the church and he says "God told me last night that you all needed to hear this message of love. He told me to tell you this morning how much He cares about you." Your pastor hears voices. Should he be allowed to own a gun?
Okay, maybe your pastor is speaking metaphorically. What about the woman who wakes up in the middle of the night and sees her dead mother-in-law at the foot of the bed and her dead mother-in-law says "I'm okay now."
That's hearing a voice and seeing things that aren't there. Should that woman own a gun?
Or what about the woman who was raped, who has PTSD from the crime, and wants a gun for protection? Are we going to tell her she's too crazy to get one?
This brings me to reason 2. When it comes down to it, the NRA will oppose a database of mentally ill people. Regardless of what they say right now. The NRA is the lobbying group for gun manufacturers. Its job is to promote gun ownership and drive gun sales.
We have a large group of Americans who have firearms experience, who — speaking broadly — are comfortable with firearms and can be counted on to be life-long gun customers, and who suffer in unfair proportion from the mental illness of PTSD — combat veterans.
There's simply no way that the NRA is going to support putting together a database that could potentially block a great swath of veterans from owning guns based on nothing more than them suffering from a common mental illness. It'd be bad for business.
And frankly, it'd be wrong. Whatever it is, if anything, we need to do about guns, we don't solve the problem by trying to decide who's too crazy to own them.