Senate, don’t fight Trump and public opinion on guns for mentally ill

By DJ Jaffe

Originally appeared in The Hill (2/7/17)

The Senate is poised to vote on a resolution (S.J. Res 14) to make it easier for the most seriously mentally ill — those who have representative payees — to get guns. Passing it would be cruel to persons with mental illness, dangerous to communities and a slap in the face to President Trump.

During his campaign, Trump implied he would stop Congress from doing stupid things. Making it easier for the seriously mentally ill to get guns is as stupid as it gets. Between 6,000 and 18,000 persons with mental illness kill themselves with guns every year. Approximately half of all mass murders are peoplewith mental illness. And those are just the fatalities. Many more are injured. The Senate resolution takes 75,000 seriously mentally ill who would likely be put in the NICS gun background check system out of it by fiat.

Americans, even gun owners, are united around the reasonable and limited proposition that seriously mentally ill should not have easy access to guns. Trump was very specific in his policy platform: “Too many states are failing to put criminal and mental health records into the (gun background check) system — and it should go without saying that a system’s only going to be as effective as the records that are put into it. What we need to do is fix the system we have and make it work as intended.”

He’s right. A study in Connecticut found that adding more mental health records to the background check system created a 53 percent drop in the likelihood of a person who had been involuntarily committed committing a violent crime. And yet here is Congress taking other seriously mentally ill out.

The guns for mentally ill bill is being supported by strange bedfellows that give supporters strong political cover and helps earn brownie points.

Predictably, the NRA supports this resolution which could lead to greater sales, the ACLU supports because they oppose any bill that singles out anyone, even the seriously mentally ill, from exercising the Second Amendment; and some mental health groups support it because they believe the resolution’s inherent acknowledgement of the relationship between mental illness and violence creates stigma.

In casting their votes for it, Congress not only ignores Trump, it ignores families of the seriously mentally ill like my own. Twenty nine percent of all family homicides, where one family member kills another, were by persons with serious mental illness.

They also ignored those in law enforcement who have to respond when people with serious mental illness decide to use their guns for other than hunting.

The resolution would overturn post-Newtown, Conn., regulations that would put into the NICS database individuals who by applying for social security, admitted they have a mental illness so significant they cannot work, and further, are so impaired they agreed to have a representative payee for their benefits, or were assigned a representative payee and did not appeal or were not successful in appealing that determination.

Inclusion in the database would preclude them from purchasing a gun, although they could even appeal that decision. It makes sense. If your mental impairment is so significant you cannot work and cannot manage money, chances are you cannot safely manage an automatic weapon.

By removing restrictions against acquiring guns, the supporters are enabling persons with mental illness to go from psychotic to gun purchases without hitting any pesky speed bumps.

Donald Trump explained the problem with that approach, not only for the mentally ill, but for gun owners. When making the case for fixing our broken mental health system, he rhetorically asked, “And why does this matter to law-abiding gun owners? Because they get blamed by anti-gun politicians, gun control groups and the media for the acts of deranged madmen.” If they let this bill go through, they deserve that blame.

The Senate has a choice: make it even easier for the seriously mentally ill to get guns or not. President Trump should urge the Senate to reject this resolution and veto it if they ignore his advice.

DJ Jaffe is Executive Director of Mental Illness Policy Org., a non-partisan think-tank and author of Insane Consequences: How the Mental Health Industry Fails the Mentally Ill. He has written opinion pieces for the New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, and articles for National Review and Huffington Post.