17 January 2011


If one thing is true of every tragedy or disaster, it is that said event will be immediately followed by all manner of fear-driven, reactionary plans to ensure that This Thing Never Happens Again.  Without fail, these plans, themselves, have two things in common: a painfully narrow focus on the unique details over broader issues (shoe-bomber, anyone?), paired with a Magoo-like myopia as to the consequences.

Wasting no time, The New Republic, came up with a solution to help Tuscon-proof the rest of the Union (via Literata):
"The problem is that state and national laws are too narrow to catch dangerous individuals like Loughner. When Congress returns, one of the legislative changes it should consider is passing a law that would require all public entities, as well as all organizations that receive public funds, to file a report on any affiliated individuals (e.g., employees or students) that they deem to be public mental health concerns. These confidential reports (which would be provided to the person in question) would then be entered into the Brady database, called the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, and serve as grounds to prohibit immediate firearms purchases. People would ultimately have the opportunity to prove their mental stability and have the reports revoked in a timely manner—but, until then, or if unable to prove stability, they could not walk into a gun store and buy a weapon. Period."
The TNR crisis response center
What could possibly go wrong with mandating that a bunch of amateurs file assessments on whatever they deem a "mental health concern" and then compiling all their guesswork and supposition into a national database? Once you apply a legal mandate, you're just asking to get filings on every slightly twitchy, disagreeable, odd, or otherwise sketchy individual these entities come into contact with. If someone thinks there is legal--and perhaps funding-related--accountability, the lowest threshold will be applied. After all, who's going to take the chance of not reporting anyone who seems even remotely out of the ordinary if they think that if he/she does go off the deep-end, they will be neck-deep in wrongful death lawsuits from grieving family members?

And with such widely-cast nets come all the people getting caught within them.

If you do end up on the no-gun list, who can afford not to take the "opportunity to prove their mental stability?" Anyone want to wager their next job, loan, or credit application on the belief that this information will only come up if you try to buy a gun? And while you can't afford the consequences of ignoring it, how are people going to afford the finances of addressing it? Barring the establishment of a government office dedicated to proving mental stability, that's a lot of pricey psychological assessments and evaluations. (Not to mention a steadily growing government database of psychological profiles of citizens who've done nothing wrong and committed no crime. Nope, nothing creepy about that, no-sir-ee).

When will TNR and our knee-jerk legislators realize that, regardless of what we do about these situations, there will always be a "next time?" The crazies are out there and they will find a way, eventually. The sooner they accept that, the sooner we can apply common sense solutions to minimize future danger instead of engaging in this game of legislative whack-a-mole, instituting staggeringly impractical policy tailored to stop what's already happened.

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