January 11, 2011
Guns and Witches

As a student of psychology soon to be tasked with providing an approximation of mental health care, I noticed with particular alarm Sam Stein’s post about the 45 percent reduction in recipients of public mental health services in Pima County, Arizona, in 2010. In January, 3,000 people were dropped because they were deemed not to be actively displaying symptoms of mental illness. In July, 3,800 more were dropped because they didn’t fall below the federal poverty line. So in Pima County alone, 6,800 former recipients of public mental health care were set adrift, from a previous total of 15,000.

There’s no reason to think Loughner, the shooter, got any publicly funded mental health care, and he wasn’t one of those dropped. But you only have to read two or three of his sentences to realize that he needed it, and the statements of his former professors and fellow students to know that he should have been getting it because he was clearly exhibiting the signs of serious mental illness.

Interestingly, Arizona, which has one of the most expansive views of the right to bear arms, also has one of the most expansive views of the right to declare your neighbor completely whacked.

Under Arizona law, any one of Jared Lee Loughner’s classmates or teachers at Pima Community College so concerned about his increasingly bizarre behavior could have contacted local officials and asked that he be evaluated for mental illness and potentially committed for psychiatric treatment.

Mental health experts say that, unlike many other states — where little can be done to force an unstable person into treatment until he or she becomes violent and poses a danger to themself or others — Arizona is different.

Any person in Arizona can petition the court for a psychiatric evaluation solely because a person appears to be mentally ill and doesn’t know it.

I guess you’d need that kind of law if you figured most of your neighbors were carrying concealed weapons when you met them at the neighborhood bar.

The recent tragedy was not caused by the budget cuts and the dropping of 6,800 Pima County residents. But the shooter was most definitely in need of mental health care, and as predicted the number of suicides, hospitilizations, and police encounters has risen as a direct result of the cuts.

Thus the cost of treating an individual with a mental disorder, previously borne by the state with funds disbursed through the county, is eliminated. In its place are the costs of dealing with the results, whether they be the rare tragedy or the more common hospitilization, suicide, or fatal accident, which in general are borne by the local government. The state government’s budget looks better, but the overall costs are far higher. Just another example of how measuring things monetarily produces results that conflict with reality. Government should not be a business; it should protect the weak and provide everyone with a fair chance, in other words work for the true national interest.

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Posted by Chuck Dupree at January 11, 2011 11:25 PM
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Arizona is not the only place where you now have to wonder if people are packing heat in your friendly neighborhood tavern. A "shall-issue" law just went into effect in Iowa on January 1. Previously, county sheriffs, who issue concealed-carry permits (you know, those "local government" type people who should be listened to about things), could use their discretion to deny one if they had concerns about the applicant's fitness. Not any more. You would pretty much have to be a convicted felon or so mentally ill you couldn't fill out the application to be denied one now.

And you can carry your guns anywhere, anytime, concealed or not, unless the owner of private property "opts out" by posting a sign prohibiting guns. Local governments may be able to keep them out of city-owned buildings (like for city council meetings, etc.) but that's not clear yet. Even in bars: It's fine to be armed when you are in a bar drinking, but Iowans are really concerned about safety, so they added a provision that you can't be carrying if your BAC exceeds the legal intoxication limit of .08. So, they've totally provide for any potential problems, right!

We are gingerly waiting for the first shoe to drop.

Oh, yeah, this was not only signed into law but promoted by an allegedly DEMOCRATIC governor!

Posted by: Tim on January 12, 2011 1:24 PM

One can easily imagine a continued fractalization of the American demographic, in which physical mobility combines with political, environmental, and economic instability to create a Barely United States of America.

For the fictionally inclined, I very highly recommend Neal Stephenson's Snow Crash, a near-future USA in which the government controls only a tiny portion of the land mass and counts employee use of toilet paper by the sheet, all the prisons have been privatized into corporations called The Hoosegaw and The Clink, aircraft carriers have been sold to really rich weirdos, and skateboard messengers have smart equipment that keeps them safe and lets them steal energy from passing cars by harpooning them with magnets. Hilarious, and beautifully written. Very few speculative fiction writers will regularly force you to go back and re-read a sentence just because it's so pretty. Stephenson is the real deal; like Bradbury or Wells, a great story-teller. He's not as good at endings as Banks, but who is?

Posted by: Chuck Dupree on January 12, 2011 7:47 PM

In the U.S., generally, we have the right to believe lies and conspiratorial propaganda, argue violently and threateningly, purchase and carry weapons designed to kill multiple people per second, and be bat-shit insane and not seek or be forced to seek treatment (unless someone in authority has declared us in a specific instance a threat to ourselves or others). The degree varies, of course, from state to state.

We have the right to be or to be perceived as a threat to everyone around us. We have, that is, the right make people fear us.

We do not have the right to be free of these fears.

And that's the way it is. Thursday, January 13, 2012.

Posted by: Jim H. on January 13, 2011 12:20 AM
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