President Barack Obama has put gun control high on his second-term agenda, pushing also for more police forces and mental health services in schools. “The American mental health system is broken, but this back-door approach under the guise of preventing crime is not the way to fix it,” writes Acton’s Elise Hilton. “It will only further stigmatize the mentally ill, and prevent many from getting help.” The full text of her essay follows. Subscribe to the free, weekly Acton News & Commentary and other publications here.

Linking Gun Control to Mental Health Misguided, Ineffective

by Elise Hilton

President Obama has set in motion a slew of executive actions to combat gun violence in America, prompted by the Newtown shooting that left 26 children and adults dead. Restricting access to guns, especially by the mentally ill, in order to achieve peace seems an obvious solution. However, linking Second Amendment rights and mental health is nonsensical, and fails to address the source of America’s issue with violence.

Obama wants to make it as difficult as possible to legally own a gun, in order to do what he says “is our first task as a society, keeping our children safe.” He also wants to increase police forces and mental health services in schools. Aside from the fiscal issues, there are cultural and health concerns which must be examined.

President Obama said it himself: America needs to protect its children. We pretend to do this, but we don’t. Charles Krauthammer said in the Washington Post just after the Newtown tragedy, “Every mass shooting has three elements: the killer, the weapon and the cultural climate.” That “climate” is the culture of death, which broadly encompasses 55 million abortions since Roe v. Wade to the glorification of violence in movies, TV, pop music and video gaming. Indifference or simple numbness in the face of pervasive violence leaves us in a precarious position to protect our children.

Obama’s initiative also focuses on mental illness. One of the executive actions reads: Direct the Attorney General to review categories of individuals prohibited from having a gun to make sure dangerous people are not slipping through the cracks.

From this ambiguous standpoint, it makes more sense to keep guns out of the hands of males than the mentally ill. After all, it is men who overwhelmingly commit crimes in this country. One study concludes that the mentally ill are four times more likely to be victims of crime than they are to be perpetrators.

There is the question, too, of who can determine the danger posed by the mentally ill. Physician Timothy Dalrymple says that this question is simply unanswerable.

…psychiatrists are no better than others at predicting violence by disturbed people, except possibly among the psychotic. They tend to overestimate the dangers, and in making predictions, they face the problem of the false positive and the false negative. In the case of a false positive, you think that someone is dangerous when he isn’t; in the case of a false negative, that he is not dangerous when he is. False predictions of rare events (such as mass killings) generally outweigh true ones by a large factor—an important point to remember, especially if you wish to grant or withdraw civil liberties on the basis of such predictions.

Muddling mental health and civil liberties will be mayhem. Might a woman suffering from a bout of post-partum depression be forever barred from owning a weapon? If a recreational hunter thinks seeking help for depression would keep him from owning a gun, will he choose to forgo medical advice? Should a cop struggling with post-traumatic stress be permanently relieved of his weapon?

If you want to see a kid get stigmatized, have him pulled out of his high school biology class once a week to talk to the school shrink. Such over-reaching health “care” will take treatment of mental illness out of the hands of patients and parents, and into the hands of the government.

The American mental health system is broken, but this back-door approach under the guise of preventing crime is not the way to fix it. It will only further stigmatize the mentally ill, and prevent many from getting help. Jonah Goldberg, in his book The Tyranny of Clichés, says, “This is the true danger of turning prevention into a governmental crusade. There is no end to it, no limiting principle.”

America’s deepest problems are not guns or mental illness. We can’t fix sin, evil and cultural disorder by presidential decrees. Locking up every gun in America won’t make us safer.

The LORD looked with favor on Abel and his offering, but on Cain and his offering he did not look with favor. So Cain was very angry and dejected. Then the LORD said to Cain: Why are you angry? Why are you dejected? If you act rightly, you will be accepted; but if not, sin lies in wait at the door: its urge is for you, yet you can rule over it.

Cain said to his brother Abel, “Let us go out in the field.” When they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him.

“…sin lies in wait at the door: its urge is for you, yet you can rule over it,” God told Cain. That same offer stands before America as well. However, just as with Cain, we must rule over the darkness in our hearts. A safer, healthier, more peaceful society is not borne of misguided legislation, but deep respect for God’s greatest creation: human life.