The Norman Transcript

Columns

March 29, 2014

Protect the mentally ill

NORMAN — The federal government believed Colby Sue Weathers was a paranoid schizophrenic. It had information that she was delusional and suicidal, unable to work and therefore eligible for Medicaid and disability benefits.

One summer day in 2012, Weathers cashed her government check, bought a .45 caliber pistol from Missouri gun shop, returned home and shot her father dead.

So here’s the question: If the federal government considers a person is mentally ill enough to receive financial benefits, why can’t it also decide that person is dangerous enough to be banned from buying a gun?

Ask that question, and you tumble down a mineshaft.

Members of Congress leap to protect the Second Amendment, especially on behalf of veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder who might receive disability benefits. Medical professionals fear they’ll bear culpability for pronouncing a person dangerous or for not finding one so, if the patient then goes on to commit a violent act. Mental health advocates warn against stereotyping people suffering from depression as dangerous. Privacy experts fear medical records will be compromised and say the government shouldn’t be cross-pollinating its records systems. The Social Security Administration would have to share data with the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System, which federally licensed gun dealers use.

And the National Rifle Association would just as soon keep talking about the lack of mental health treatment options, and keep firearms out of the conversation altogether.

Yet the intersection between guns and mentally illness is the one point that has gained traction with the public as incident after incident happens in which a mentally unstable person takes a gun and commit mass murder. Bit by bit, progress has been made. States have become better at reporting to the federal registry — some states. Many are still reluctant to comply with their duty to do so, and it will be a difficult struggle to bring them into the fold.

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