Friday, October 6, 2017

Firearms and mental health

Regarding how to prevent mass shootings, a friend and former coworker asked the following:
What I'm asking here is your take on Pollard who seems to have followed all the rules obtaining his weapons. Apparently his modifications were not obtained illegally. He was an educated man who held professional employment positions and reputedly was of some wealth. He was not a felon and lived in a gated community. By all external appearances he was a "good" guy up until he crossed the line. Until that time he might have shared your argument with some validity. But, then what happened? What happened to make a difference? This was the question I posed to you Blaine years ago. Now we have the reality of the what if my question back then. The inanimate object in the hands of the law abiding citizen until the moment he became a law breaker. What happened? What do we do now?

My answer:

We can't know much about what went on in his mind that led to the shooting because that mind didn't have a flight recorder. We do know that he was taking a psychotropic drug (Valium) to treat anxiety. Such drugs have known, dangerous side effects (confusion, hallucinations, unusual thoughts or behavior, unusual risk-taking behavior, decreased inhibitions, no fear of danger, thoughts of suicide or hurting oneself, hyperactivity, agitation, aggression, hostility, restlessness, irritability). Adverse symptoms can be precipitated or exaggerated upon withdrawal. (We give that crap to our children to drug them into factory-like uniformity.) It was reported on Thursday that his girlfriend said some of his behaviors were troubling.

I am opposed to denying a person of any rights solely because that person is under treatment for mental health issues unless due process of law is taken to ensure his/her rights are protected. A blanket, arbitrary denial of everyone who takes Valium would discourage those who need help from seeking/accepting help.

However, even mild mental illness should be sufficient notice to friends, family, coworkers, physicians, therapists, etc. to watch a bit more closely for signs of danger and to intervene before the illness is out of control. Adequate signs of imminent danger were manifest in every mass-shooting incident I know of. Nobody did anything to stop it.

We cannot ban objects simply because they might be abused by someone. Likewise, we cannot arbitrarily imprison anyone who hasn't committed a crime, but has the potential to do so. In both cases, we can and should take steps to eliminate risk. In the case of objects that can be abused, we offer/require training and limit use of those objects to persons who are competent (eg, driving a vehicle after reaching a certain age or driving sober). In the case of persons, we impose background checks and age limits for firearm purchases (which the Las Vegas shooter obviously passed) to identify persons with documented dangerous and irresponsible behaviors and we must watch those around us for incipient behavioral problems and get that person help while treatment is still easy. At some point, after due process of law, we sometimes need to lock people up for treatment until behavioral problems are resolved.

We are our brother's keeper. As airmen, we do that for our fellow crew-members when they deviate from established standards in the cockpit. We need to do that for family and friends in everyday life too. The Las Vegas (Aurora, Austin, Charleston, Columbine, Ft. Hood, Luby's Cafeteria, Pulse Night Club, San Bernardino, Sandy Hook, Umpqua, Virginia Tech, etc.) shooter needed that help, and didn't get it.

Another safety step I take is personal avoidance of gun-free zones -- places where only dangerous people have guns. The venue for Sunday night's concert and surrounding casinos are examples.

Caveat: Although I have a graduate degree in counseling, I am not a practicing or licensed mental health therapist nor am I an attorney. I don't pretend to be either on TV.

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