As a reminder, and because it continues to bother the hell out of me, and because Missouri voters ought to know where their elected representatives have been morally and legislatively standing—the next time a mentally ill person gets a gun and kills kids or anyone else—here is a story from GovTrack Insider from last week:
The Obama Administration in its closing days instituted a new regulation instituting a novel form of gun control. The rule included those who received Social Security checks for mental illness or for being “unable to handle their own financial affairs” into the National Instant Criminal Background Check System for gun purchases.
The rule was finalized by the Social Security Administration (SSA) on December 19, 2016. Approximately 75,000 people would be affected and potentially barred from purchasing a weapon as a result.
Public Law 115–8 was recently passed by Congress and signed by President Trump to overturn this rule.
Although the law passed and signed by Tr-mp did have a few Democrats on board, mostly it was done by Republicans. Here in Missouri, my congressman, Ozark Billy Long, was co-sponsor in the House. In the Senate, Roy Blunt was a co-sponsor. That’s the same Roy Blunt who wouldn’t do a damn thing after the murder of school children at Sandy Hook Elementary School in December of 2012 because, as he wrote in a piece for USA Today, the real issue was “fixing our broken mental health system.” He wrote:
People with mental health problems are almost never dangerous. In fact, they are more likely to be the victims than the perpetrators. At the same time, mental illness has been the common denominator in one act of mass violence after another.
It’s hard to square what Blunt said (all true) with what he did by sponsoring a bill designed, albeit somewhat feebly, to help prevent “one act of mass violence after another.” But a lot of things Republicans do these days are hard to square.
It doesn’t take a Tr-mpian jeenyus to figure out that, even though the determination of who is “unable to handle their own financial affairs” is, like all human decisions, “subjective,” (a complaint often made by Republicans) there has to be some limits on the purchase of firearms by people who competent professionals have deemed a risk. Otherwise, there can be no such thing as a restriction, ever, on anyone owning a firearm. Even the Supreme Court’s disastrous Heller decision okayed restrictions on gun ownership “by felons and the mentally ill.” In both cases, the people who fall into one of those two categories do so by way of subjective determinations.
A person becomes a “felon” either through the decision of a jury, a judge, or by lawyers making plea bargains, all of them subjective players and quite fallible. A “mentally ill” person likewise is so labeled, or should be so labeled, by professionals who are trained to recognize specific behaviors and connect those to a diagnosis. Again, there is the possibility of misdiagnosis and mislabeling. But wouldn’t it be better to slightly err on the side of caution, when it comes to questions of mental illness and gun ownership?
I recognize the Obama administration’s rule, which wouldn’t have taken effect until December of this year, wouldn’t have come close to solving the problems our society has with gun violence. And I realize that stigmatizing people with mental illness as “dangerous” is a real concern that has to be taken very seriously. But damn, people. If we can’t even agree that folks who receive “Social Security checks for mental illnesses and people deemed unfit to handle their own financial affairs” ought to be put in the national background check database, then our biggest problem with gun violence is that there is nothing—nothing—Republicans want to do about it.