Thursday, April 18, 2013

Psychiatric care versus gun control - an expected outcome

Just in case you are keeping score the Senate voted down some modest gun control proposals last week.  The issue of coming together over mental health care to address one of the dimensions of mass shootings also did not happen.  In the political calculus, it makes sense that if legislators did not fear the gun control lobby they had a lot less to fear from a mental health lobby ambivalent about dovetailing improved mental health care with gun control.

The pro gun advocates especially the NRA have always underscored the idea that they support law abiding citizens having access to firearms.  Their mantra for years has been that if there are more obstacles to law abiding citizens getting guns then only criminals would have them.  Never mind the significant number of accidental deaths every year and the fact that firearm suicide is consistently greater that firearm homicide in this country.  That detail is not lost on psychiatrists interviewing patients who have told us that they were impulsively looking for a gun to kill themselves and the only thing that prevented it was a background check and a waiting period.  The main provision of the attempted legislation was an extension of background checks.  If the pro gun lobby believes that it is protecting the right of law abiding citizens to purchase firearms, there should be no problem at all with universal background checks.  That should cut across all venues where firearms are bought and traded.  I have not heard a single rational explanation for voting down extended or universal background checks.

Reaction to the failure of this legislation was as swift as the Sunday morning talk shows.  Bob Scheiffer interviewed family members of the victims of the Sandy Hook incident on Face the Nation.  They were clearly upset about the vote in the Senate as captured in this quote from Neil Heslin father of 6 year old Jesse Heslin one of the victims of this incident:

"....As simple as a background check, putting aside the assault weapon ban or limitation or control, it's just a stepping stone of the background check with the mental health and the school security. I think the most discouraging part of this week was to, after the vote, to see who voted and who didn't vote, support it, and realize it's a political game. It was nothing bipartisan about it, at all. And we aren't going to go away. I know I'm not. We're not going to stop until there are changes that are made."

In the vacuum of no discussion of the vote against the bill or partisan rhetoric, very little was said in the press about the money behind the vote. did an excellent job of showing that like most things in American politics it looks like a significant factor.  Their research clearly shows that the pro-gun lobby can outspend the gun control lobby by as much as 15:1 with most of the money going to Republicans.  There are a couple of things working against the pro-gun lobby and all of that money - public support for common sense gun measures like background checks is at an all time high.   The second factor is difficult to say out loud but in American culture you can depend on it.  There will be more incidents and the pro-gun solutions (armed guards in schools, keeping the guns out of the hands of criminals and the mentally ill) are not really solutions.  The pro-gun lobby has demonstrated that they do not take that task seriously.

George Dawson, MD, DFAPA

Senate Blocks Drive for Gun Control.  NYTimes April 17, 2013.

S. 649 Roll Call Vote

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