Gun law reform should not require medical records

The federal government has proposed that state mental health agencies be allowed to transmit certain data about mentally ill patients to the FBI’s National Instant Background Check System. The idea is to keep people who’ve been declared mentally unfit from buying guns.

I think it’s a bad idea. If a court has declared a person to be mentally unfit, then the criminal justice system, not medical providers, could report the data instead. The justice system’s job is much more closely aligned with this task than the medical establishment is. 

Forcing health care providers into this role could also prove a setback for those with mental disorders by putting barriers in the way of getting treatment.

I also think the mental health issue has been overplayed in reaction to the recent massacres in Connecticut, Colorado and elsewhere and that it’s a mistake to believe that gun safety will be achieved just by keeping crazy people from buying weapons.

Over time I’m optimistic that we’ll see the gun control debate become more rational and productive. I envision an end state where the approaches deployed with other useful or entertaining products such as cars and alcohol will be applied to guns. That means age restrictions, licensing, registration, liability insurance requirements, and public health initiatives to reduce harm.

June 14, 2013

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