Friday, December 14, 2012

An Argument for Social Support for the Mentally-At-Risk

The nation is in shock regarding today's shooting. There will be renewed calls for gun control. Whatever the arguments for gun control, one way or the other, the nation should also take a close look at the legacy of deinstitutionalization of the mentally-at-risk and the de-funding of social programs for the mentally-at-risk that occurred during the Reagan years. For example, we see the legacy of deinstitutionalization and funding limitations in many large cities via the schizophrenics that live on the street harrassing the occasional passing pedestrian.

In this case, it appears that there were syptoms of anti-social behavior in the shooter from early childhood. This behavior did not appear to have triggered significant safeguards in the system, the result of which we see in full clarity today. Early detection, professional therapy, and institutional support, where necessary, might have prevented this day's tragic events.


naturgesetz said...

All of what you say is true enough, but as I recall what happened here in Massachusetts, there was a considerable civil libertarian element to the deinstitutionalization. The idea was that people who weren't criminals should not be held against their will. I think that any attempt to force unwilling people into treatment would meet with resistance on similar grounds.

A more narrowly focused answer would be to require licenses to own firearms, with eligibility dependent, at least in part on passing a mental health/stability test . The license would have to be renewed every few years. with a new test every time. It would not solve the problem of people using someone else's gun, and it would not eliminate illegal ownership. but I think it could help a lot.

The Wayward Hawaiian said...

Yes, you are correct, there was a civil libertarian aspect to the deinstitutionalization. The line between civil liberties and public safety is occasionally a fuzzy one. However, we should not have to wait until a mass murder to intercede. It is likely that such intervention will not involve institutionalization in most cases for both legal and cost-related reasons. I also agree that a license dependent on passing a mental stability test is probably a good idea. However, in this case, the guns were owned by the shooter's mother. Clearly, while every bit of deterrent counts, we cannot always count on the potentially violent having great motivation to follow the licensing laws. Given the ease of access to weapons of all varieties in this country, those weapons being not at all limited to firearms, it seems that there is still no good substitute for early and frequent intervention and social work among those who require it.