Monday, April 23, 2007

National Database of the Mentally Ill

I think this is interesting, but more knee-jerk than a workable proposal.
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Prompted by the Virginia Tech massacre, a U.S. Congress reluctant to tackle gun control may pass limited legislation to help keep firearms out of the hands of the mentally ill, lawmakers and aides said on Sunday.

"Given the horror that happened at Virginia Tech, I think there's a real chance of passing this," said Sen. Charles Schumer, a New York Democrat, told "Fox News Sunday."
The way Sen. Schumer sees this working is to have mental-health adjudications included in the national instant background check database which prevents firearms purchases. Presumably, the intent is to have all mentally ill people listed.

Unfortunately, or fortunately depending on one's perspective, it isn't possible. A significant percentage of mentally ill people have never been adjudicated as such. For example, if an individual checks him or herself into a facility or the family of an individual does so, there is no formal adjudication and all records are protected by doctor-patient confidentiality. The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 specifies federal requirements for security and privacy of medical records and health providers take the act very seriously.

Consequently, the only people who would be affected by the proposed legislation would largely be those individuals that had attempted or already committed a criminal offense and their mental health became an issue during legal proceedings.

Of course, if the government redefined "adjudication" to mean when any lower-level bureaucrat signs the proper form, quite possibly a flood of names would be gathered for the database of mentally ill people. After all, that's how Hitler was able to get his Aryan purity project launched.

And, as I understand, this new proposed legislation, had it been law at the time, wouldn't have stopped Cho Seung-Hui from buying guns anyway. Although a judge made a preliminary determination that Cho was nuts, the final "adjudication" came from a doctor working with the court. And the doctor said Cho was fine.

In conclusion, based upon the doctor-patient problems and the dangerous potential of having bureaucrats making mental health determinations, I don't see the proposed legislation becoming law. Even so, I do think there would be some support in Congress, in particular those politicians that drool at the thought of wielding the legislative power to declare somebody mentally ill.

Tip: slwlion

[Update] This post included in Grand Rounds. Go visit.

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