Saturday, June 22, 2013

Florida Gun Law; Scapegoating Mental illness!

       Forrest Gump once said, "Stupid is as Stupid does", and since the tragedy in Newton Connecticut,  we have witnessed a cesspool of ignorance which has tossed around ridiculous proposals in a senseless game in deflecting culpability.  Lately, it has led to pinning the blame, not on a neglected and outdated mental health system, but on those afflicted themselves. With that, the stigma of mental illness, which many feel, myself included, is significantly worse than the disease itself, is now once again being magnified.  This twisted position will result in  vulnerable individuals  continuing to deteriorate from being unfairly labeled dangerous, and becoming social outcasts.  
     As an example of this mass stupidity, we need look only to Florida,  where a law is heading to the Governor's desk mandating that if anyone voluntarily seeks treatment for mental illness, those individuals will forfeit their rights to own a gun. On the surface, this would be something that would make mainstream society feel safe, keeping those guns out of the hands of the "crazies"! However, like many things, first glances can be misleading, and in this case, downright dangerous by having the opposite affect!
      The premise of this legislation, endorsed by a bipartisan commission and surprisingly, the National Rifle Association, is that mental illness is equated to violence. That belief, though widely held, is utterly false. Most people who are mentally ill are, decent hardworking people, whom many times feel a need to repent for their affliction. Now with this law, many will choose to forgo treatment at the threat of job losses and other limitations. Also, this action ignores that there are no clear lines to be drawn between normalcy and sickness, and even professionals struggle to make a proper diagnosis.
     To better illustrate the falsehoods between violence and mental illness, we can look at so-called "normal" people who commit heinous acts. We will not have to look far as right here in this area, there is an example of one doing just that. A Lorain Sheriffs correction officer William Dembie, is currently awaiting trial in the vicious murder of his wife Holly during a domestic dispute. He is alleged to have stabbed her numerous times and showing no mercy. At his arraignment, he can be seen on camera joking and smirking about what was taking place.
      Mr. Dembie was described to me by some of his acquaintances as a good guy, legitimate law enforcement officer,  and who never exhibited any signs of being violent or being mentally ill. However, immediately after the killing, none of the headlines in the local papers read, "Normal Guy Stabs Wife to Death!" Nor did it mention that guns were not involved  in this crime.
     Knowing that normal people do commit violent acts, we need to emphasize the damage that this law will cause. We use as an example, soldiers returning from their tours of duty and your local first responders.  
     A young man or woman comes back from serving in the armed forces, and suffers mental health issues, which is common. Their wait for needed treatment can be long and arduous, but eventually, they are finally treated for their post traumatic stress disorder. Keep in mind, many of these young individuals do aspire for a career in law enforcement. However, with this proposed law, and because they did seek treatment, they will be barred from owning or possessing a firearm, thus eliminating  their ability to pursue their career path.  That is unless a psychiatrist and a judge approve that they are cured and fit for duty. Once again, an added burden to having one of these afflictions.
     Right from the beginning there are significant problems that are being ignored. How many Psychiatrists are going to risk lawsuits by signing off that a person is cured of a disease that is only controllable, not curable? How many Judges even have the intellectual capacity to understand the dynamics of these disorders? These are direct questions with no clear answers.
     Now with that law in effect, this young man or woman returning from war, will forgo treatment, live a tortured life with the emotional demons they create, and feel a need to hide their condition in shame and fear.  Additionally, because of the cognitive altering power of these disorders, many will struggle in both their career paths and personal lives. Self-medication with drugs and/or alcohol will become more commonplace, and with it, an increased social cost to society in general,
      It is essential that I add what I have discovered. I know many police officers, and many have told me of their battles with these disorders. Many are seeking treatment and are outstanding law enforcement officers. The public does not need to fear them as they do and will continue to perform their duties in an exemplary fashion. It bears mentioning that many have developed their mental health conditions just from performing their duties; which is known as vicarious trauma.  
     In essence, what this legislation will create is an underground of people fearful of their careers being limited by this ill advised scheme. It will once again demonize the disease which is what many advocates have attempted, through awareness, to alleviate. Since more people will not seek treatment, the situation with the mentally ill will become even more unpredictable, and at times, volatile. An additional consequence, police officers who do need treatment, will  will now be on the road battling the symptoms of mental illness untreated, thus putting the public at further risk.
     In the aftermath of all the high profile killings in the last several years; Newton Connecticut, Aurora Colorado and Tucson Arizona,  hysteria replaces rational thinking. What ends up happening, and this plan is a prime example, is that exposure becomes the most critical element for our political leaders to exploit. We had many opportunities to put the mental health system in the spotlight and make many fundamental changes, but instead, we focus on the tools of the killings, not the causes. Now in Florida, with people beginning to live in fear at the potential negative life altering consequence of seeking treatment, many will hide their afflictions. This will result in more lives being lost, and more tragedies occurring.
     It is astonishing to realize that the words of the character Forrest Gump would become a metaphor for how we as a nation responded in a way we did after these senseless killings. During this time, no significant changes have occurred in modernizing the mental health system in this country, and none are being proposed. .
     Albert Einstein once said; "the definition of insanity is doing the same things over and over again, and expecting a different result", which is what we are doing. I just wonder how many more lives will be destroyed or lost before we make material changes that will benefit everyone. However, I am not holding my breath, nor should any other innocent person.