On Wednesday February 15th, the Senate voted to repeal a regulation created by the Social Security Administration to prevent certain mentally-ill people from purchasing firearms. This is a two month old regulation, barely enough time to notice any merits or complications. With increased conversations on school and public shootings (think: Sandy Hook, 2012) and terrorism, this shift brings into question safety, security, mental health and hygiene, protection of rights, and interpretation of the second amendment.
Those for repealing argue that the regulation is too broad and takes away the second amendment right of law-abiding and non-violent citizens. Those against repealing state that the Social Security Administration does specify that only citizens who have qualified for disability due to a mental disorder and are unable to manage their own affairs and function on their own would be reported into the background check database.
This issue opens the door for two separate issues: mental health in the U.S. and violence in the U.S. Very rarely are the National Rifle Association (NRA) and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) on the same side, but in this case, the NRA believe this regulation restricts second amendment rights and the ACLU believes this will only promote mental illness stereotypes and stigma. Such regulations beg the questions: are we building systems that help mental health and are we building systems that prevent gun violence?
What stops people from being allowed to legally purchase a gun? Currently, age, being under indictment on a crime punishable by a year in prison or convicted of a similar offense, current restraining orders by a partner or child, being convicted of domestic violence, being a fugitive, user of controlled substances, or currently committed to a mental institution. All make sense for one reason or another.
These red flags that pop up in background checks are helpful, but unfortunately, not everything goes reported. Domestic violence, drug use, and mental health issues are not necessarily reported and therefore, untraceable. A preventative measure would be to create a clear psychological evaluation regardless of one's health status (pre-existing condition). Just as therapists and psychiatrists gauge a patients depression through a checklist of symptoms, similarly likelihood to act out through violence based on psychological symptoms, thoughts, and past actions self-reported and evaluated by professionals.
It is my understanding that the second amendment states that U.S. citizens are allowed to bear arms. I think we often forget that the right to bear arms freely when the second amendment was written was a different definition of arms than it is today. Weapons were not nearly as advanced. With the growth in technology, laws have not been able to keep up, but that is a whole other issue. When it comes to defense and safety, there has to be rules in place to protect us from ourselves. Arms were not what they are today - not nearly as powerful or deadly, and therefore, should not be handled lightly.
Is it infringing to ask why a person is purchasing a gun? I think not. Having protocols and preventing possible violence through asking questions is not inconvenient or inappropriate; it is intelligent. It is a process that in the best case scenario helps the person being vetted. Let's say the intent of possessing a gun was to harm others and then that comes through in a psychological assessment. What if there was a proceeding protocol that assisted the person with their issues instead of sweeping them under the rug?
Compare the process of getting guns to sexual reassignment surgery. Both are powerful things to do. When someone wants to change their gender, they have to meet with a mental health professional for psychotherapy. A letter of recommendation from the psychotherapist is what allows a person to begin hormone treatments. While changing the body is quite different than holding a gun, their is precious life involved. Both deserve attention in their own right. It makes societal sense to ensure that those holding guns, will do so with responsibility. More harm can be done with a gun than with hormones, so why not regulate it as such? If it takes time and energy to make sure people interested in gender reassignment surgery are doing so for the right reasons, we surely can make sure that people interested in harmful weapons are getting them for the right reasons.
There are better ways to create safety than going on the offense and pointing guns. We can do better. We should do better.