Georgia GOP Goes Wild and Passes Gun Licenses for the Recently Hospitalized Mentally Ill

Guns Over People by Mario Piperni
Guns Over People by Mario Piperni

Hey, here’s a great get out jail free card for the NRA/GOP: First you blame people, then you blame mental illness, and then you blame video games. Never blame the guns.

Then, set about creating crazy chaos and mind blowing hypocrisy by giving gun licenses to those who have received inpatient treatment for mental illness or substance abuse. Expand the right to carry to churches, colleges and bars… and see what happens.

Oh, you think I’m kidding? Sorry, no, that’s what they’re doing in Georgia, where the Republicans rule the roost. Even Texas considers psychiatric hospitalization a bump in the road on your way to get licensed to carry. Not Georgia.


The Republican led House passed this bill 117-56 on Thursday. Democrats objected to the Republican bill, but they have no firepower in the Georgia House. Yahoo reported:

Legislators in Georgia’s House voted 117-56 on Thursday to allow people who have voluntarily sought inpatient treatment for mental illness or substance abuse to get licenses. The same bill would force officials to check on whether applicants have received involuntary treatment in the past five years before issuing licenses. Georgia also may change its laws to allow people to carry guns in churches, bars and on college campuses, contrary to what’s happening elsewhere in the United States.

It should be noted that being voluntarily or involuntarily hospitalized for mental illness does not necessarily imply that one received and is continuing treatment, medication, etc. Too often mental hospitals are used as holding cells until a crisis passes rather than actual treatment centers.

The legislation is sponsored by GeorgiaCarry.Org. They claim to be ” GCO is a 501 (c) 4 non-profit, non-partisan, grassroots organization. GCO works for gun owners, not politicians.” As of March, 2009, they had about 4,000 members. So those members will be getting their way if this bill passes the state Senate, while Georgia colleges, bars and churches become that much more dangerous for everyone else.

But perhaps this will clarify Georgia Carry best, “Georgiacarry makes the NRA look like a popgun group,” Maggie Lee, The Beacon, February 2, 2010. Ah, yes. This is exactly what we needed. A group more extreme than the NRA, in a state run by Republicans who are also pretty extreme but sadly in line with what their national party has become.

But they do have limits. If you were involuntarily checked in (which is rare now due to changes that necessitate the patient being a proven danger to self or others before involuntary commitment) during the past five years, well, you might have some trouble getting a gun. The new bill will make busy work of checking on that involuntary commitment status.

If this bill passes, Georgia will be the NRA/Republican American dream on steroids. Somehow they ignore the very real issue of suicide, as well as protecting vulnerable family members.

The Mental Illness Policy Organization broke down the issues regarding involuntary commitment:

5,000 individuals with schizophrenia and other serious mental illnesses kill themselves every year.
300,000 individuals with serious neurobiological disorders (NBD) are in jails and prisons
Each year over 11 million days are spent by individuals with NBD in jail (does not include state or federal prisons)
200,000 individuals with serious neurobiological disorders are homeless
1,000 homicides a year are committed by people with serious mental illness
While a variety of factors account for these facts, the question has to be asked, “would the lives of some people with neurobiological disorders (NBD) be improved if they had had access to some form of involuntary treatment and/or involuntary commitment?” Current involuntary commitment and/or involuntary commitment laws and policies in many places are inadequate in that they:
(1) allow people who may not need involuntary commitment or involuntary treatment to be committed, and
(2) deny some who may need access to involuntary treatment and/or involuntary commitment from receiving it.

Involuntary versus voluntary commitment isn’t the best line to draw in trying to determine who is a danger to others. Being successfully treated after either would be a better bar, although tougher to standardize. As Cobb County, Georgia District Attorney Vic Reynolds said, “My concern would be there’s got to be people who voluntarily seek inpatient treatment who wouldn’t be any less dangerous than if they’re sent there involuntarily.”

It’s important not to stigmatize the mentally ill as being murderers on a rampage (the media has fallen for this NRA excuse one too many times). In fact, the majority of people seeking help for mental health issues are not dangerous. At the same time, for those who are dangerous, policy has shifted and it’s not easy to get involuntary commitment before something awful happens. The family has to be able to prove that the person is “‘imminently’ and/or ‘provably’ dangerous before the state can exercise its powers.”

The issue of involuntary commitment is a complex balance of civil liberties versus the power of the state to protect the individual and others. But one thing is clear: Giving gun licenses to people who are already struggling and whose families are already struggling to live with a mentally ill person is not the safest idea. It also brings up the rights of individuals versus the group/family/society. A second amendment right isn’t something you’re granted at birth and can never ever lose. Like most rights, it comes with responsibilities and standards.

Image: Mario Piperni

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