The Republican reaction to President Obama’s “gun control” speech is in. It took a few hours for the NRA memo to arrive, but once it did, right-wing House members, where any gun legislation will live or die, came forth with the same chorus; mental illness and the constitution. You’ll be hard pressed to find any of their number proposing anything to do with meaningful gun legislation. Ain’t happening.
Thanks to my local paper, I’ve become privy to South Carolina 4th District Congressman Trey Gowdy’s thoughts on the matter, all of which mirror his House colleagues I’m sure.
For Gowdy, it’s all about mental illness and the constitution. As for concerns about firearms and mayhem from the seriously mentally ill, those concerns are justified. Individuals suffering from schizophrenia and bipolar disorder are a particular risk to commit violent acts if they’re off their meds. Their most likely victims would be family members. Federal figures put the number of the dangerously mentally unstable at well over 50% of the prison population. So, yes, a person with a serious mental illness calls for special attention.
When Gabby Giffords was shot 2 years ago, the Arizona mental health budget had just been cut by 40%. There have been similar deep cuts in many states, mostly in community mental health services by reducing the number of people served.
In the 1960’s states started to comply with a law called “The Community Mental Health Centers Act.” The primary intention was to shift care away from institutionalization and toward local treatment centers. Problem was many of those centers didn’t materialize and even when they did, those most in need didn’t bother to drop by. Now the heaviest emphasis is on outpatient services. Kaiser Family Foundation numbers reported in the Washington Post showed an inpatient population of the mentally ill at 42% in 1986 down to 19% in 2005 and it continues to fall. Mental health block grants have been cut and frozen by Congress over the last decade.
Prescription drugs are heavily relied upon, but in a non-institutionalized or residential setting, there are no guarantees that clients are taking them on a regular basis. Therein lies the problem. Certain mental conditions, non-medicated and exacerbated by booze and street drugs can turn a perfectly civil and stable person into a killing machine. So while Gowdy is correct, I’ve heard very little criticism from him on the subject of defunding programs. It’s instructive that Gowdy has repeatedly voted to repeal “Obamacare” which has a strong mental health and substance abuse component.
At this time, there just aren’t enough mental health professionals to meet the demand and when a troubled individual does scare up the courage to get help, it’s damn expensive. That’s why the extension of Medicaid, that many red states are in the process of rejecting, is so vital. The Journal of Psychiatry estimates that 1 in 6 low-income persons (below 133% of the poverty level) served by the extension, has a severe mental health disorder.
So it’s time for Republicans to get their Neanderthal state legislatures in order if they truly wish to ameliorate the mental health aspect of this terrible problem. A couple of points to ponder: the mentally ill are responsible for less than 10% of gun homicides and none of the recent mass murderers would had been judged mentally ill. Even had that been the case, 40% of gun sales are not subject to background checks.
So, we still have a 90% problem. The Republican reaction? With Gowdy as surrogate, they’re going after Obama’s Executive Orders for their constitutionality. I wonder if all of George W. Bush’s 216 Executive Orders were constitutional? Apparently there were no concerns from Republicans then. Obama is already at 168, readily understandable given an impossibly recalcitrant right-wing House. Unstated, but obvious, is that Republicans will try to go after the orders either though new evasive laws or through their network of conservative courts. Since no House attempts would pass the Senate, the courts are about to become overburdened with Executive Orders cases, both from DC and the various red states that will rush to pass opposing legislation that invites court scrutiny.
I’ve now read Obama’s Executive Orders. Not a word about semi-automatics or limitations on anything that goes boom. There are references to background checks but not as intrusive as the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) of 2008. With FISA, authorities can snoop around your international email and wiretap your international phone calls without a warrant and you don’t have to be suspected of anything. Congress is so enamored with these powers that FISA was quietly re-upped (H.R. 5949) for another 5 years just before New Years. FISA is an extension of the massively unconstitutional Patriot Act, enacted in the immediate wake of 9/11. Constitutional protector Gowdy whose words say one thing and his actions quite another, voted yes on 5949. It’s a reminder that Republicans and some Democrats pick and choose their constitutional applications.
After being thwarted at the appellate level, the ACLU has a challenge before the Supreme Court in Amnesty et al. v. Clapper. The case was heard last October and the decision is pending.
In his Executive actions, the President dedicates several of the Orders to the logistics of making agency background checks more broadly available to states. Another order directs the ATF to provide guidance to gun dealers to run background checks for private sellers. The right will raise a bit of hell on that one.
Obama wants a safe and responsible gun ownership PR campaign. I thought that was what the NRA was for. He wants to review safety standards for gun locks and gun safes. LaPierre’s BP is going up. Order number 9 would issue a Presidential Memorandum requiring the feds to trace guns recovered in criminal investigations. Don’t states already do that in most cases? It takes the FBI forever to accomplish the simplest tasks for local law enforcement. Highly impractical.
A few more Orders; maximize enforcement efforts to prevent gun violence and prosecute gun crime; provide ‘incentives’ (are we talking money here?) for schools to hire school resource officers. Obama missed the certification issue, another costly venture. There are other Orders that you can read for yourself anywhere on the Internet. I see a very careful set of “bipartisan” Executive Orders here. Most already exist and none even remotely address the problem of handgun ownership that is, at the end of the day, responsible for the largest percentage of gun homicides and suicides. There is but a tepid reference to the mental health component.
“Folsom Prison Blues” a song written and recorded by the late Johnny Cash 57 years ago couldn’t be more appropriate than it is today…
“When I was just a baby my mama told me son,
Always be a good boy, don’t ever play with guns.
But I shot a man in Reno just to watch him die
When I hear that whistle blowing, I hang my head and cry.
Editor’s Note: Obama signed 23 executive actions, not orders. Many of the actions are memos and directives.
Raised rural & small town, then lived in N.Y., Chicago & LA. Widely traveled. Returned from world wandering to pursue media life of anchorman/reporter and major, medium and small market talk radio. Highly active in politics. Once worked as orderly & security in Mens Lock Ward for the Criminally Insane at a state institution. Much more rational population than current Teapublicans. Great concern for country run by and for the extreme wealthy. The inhumane current running through this country has no precedent in modern history.
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