Gun Control and the Mentally Ill

An incredible letter that is a must-read for anyone wanting to learn about mental illness, murder rates, deinstitutionalism, and gun control.  Partially repeated below:

Gun Control, Mental Illness, and Safety: A Letter for Ted Cruz

Thank you for inviting me to share my expertise concerning the problem of gun violence in America. My published books and law review articles examine, among other subjects, black history, the origins of American gun culture, the judicial interpretation of both federal and state right to keep and bear arms provisions, and the history of mental health care in the United States. My work has been cited in D.C. v. Heller (2008), McDonald v. Chicago (2010), and many decisions of the U.S. Courts of Appeal and state supreme courts.

Attached please find an article from the Federalist Society publication Engage published last year: “Madness, Deinstitutionalization & Murder.” The Engage article examines the role that the deinstitutionalization of the mentally ill, starting in the 1960s and reaching full fruition in the 1970s, played in increasing murder rates. Of most relevance to the recent tragedy in Connecticut, deinstitutionalization turned what had been a shockingly rare event — random acts of mass murder — into something that horrifies us but no longer shocks us because such incidents happen several times a year.

That deinstitutionalization increased murder rates is not an impressionistic or anecdotal claim: as the article points out, multivariate correlation analysis by Prof. Bernard Harcourt of the University of Chicago demonstrates a statistically significant negative correlation between murder rates and total institutionalization rates (the sum of prison and mental hospital occupancy) for the years 1928 to 2000. Using an entirely different technique, Prof. Stephen P. Segal of University of California, Berkeley demonstrated in 2011 that three measures of mental health care systems are statistically significant in relation to state-to-state variations in murder rates. Indeed, one-third of this variation can be explained by one factor alone: the relative ease of involuntary commitment of the mentally ill.

As the Engage article points out, at least 18% of Indiana inmates convicted of murder are mentally ill: a more detailed examination of the data shows that 11% of Indiana murder convicts are suffering from psychotic conditions that have caused them to lose connection to reality. By my estimate, it is likely that there are 1,300 to 1,400 murders a year in the U.S. by such severely mentally ill offenders.

Of these, about 500 likely involve weapons other than firearms.  Any gun-control measures are guaranteed to be ineffective at reducing non-gun murders by mentally ill offenders. At best, they can only reduce murders with guns — and only the very optimistic believe that gun-control laws will make anything but a marginal improvement in murder rates.

On the other hand, if we look at the solutions that have been demonstrated to work — such as increasing the number of psychiatric beds available per capita and making emergency involuntary commitment statutes less restrictive (as discussed in Prof. Segal’s paper) — we can reduce murder rates regardless of weapon type.

However, because these involve state law changes, they must be the subject of state legislation, not congressional action. Congress can shine a bright light on the problems that the well-intentioned policy of deinstitutionalization caused, but state legislatures must take principal responsibility for solving these problems.

Read the whole letter and send it to your friends – this is where mass shootings will be solved.  But only if concerned people can articulate the case, and only if the voting masses have the wit to understand this and approve the real changes we need.

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