All Amendments Created Equal

Whose rights trump?

Every American is endowed with the same rights and decelerations including the "pursuit of life, liberty and happiness." Innocent victims of mass violence have their rights stolen from them.


As a society we have abdicated any responsibility for the individuals with mental illness, particularly relating to those who might be a danger to self or others. We substantially gave up mental health treatment of potentially violent individuals after deinstitutionalization of the mentally ill in in 70s. As a society we’ve abandoned those with violent tendency concurrent with their mental problems. For families to get mental health services the individual has to come into conflict with the law. While that does not insure the person gets mental health services, it gets them a criminal record and jail. Imagine if we treated high blood pressure that way. With no treatment till you got to jail, many individuals with high blood pressure would die prematurely, their disease untreated. It doesn’t make much sense.


There is a large and vibrant research literture about identification, treatment and societal engagement of those mentally ill individuals with tendencies toward violence. Is it fool proof, no more than any diagnostic prediction. Professionals often over-diagnosis because the result of the failure to predict violence can have serious consequences for for more people than the ill individual. Yet we can rely on this broad research basis to substantially improve on our current bias toward the idea helplessness in the face of rogue individual acting out. The research literature and the informed mental health community can be used to guide meaningful public policy to develop a comprehensive system to curb mass violence.


It is time to stop hiding behind the rights argument. Everyone understands Oliver Wendell Homes example that First Amendment freedom of speech does not cover “shouting fire in crowed theater”. Yet the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms has no similar culturally agreed upon common sense restriction.  Unless a convicted felon or declared mental incompetent Americans have the right to own and carry military-style assault weapons with unlimited ammunition feeders. Seems far worse than yelling "fire". Further the First Amendment right to privacy protects personal health (including mental) records from public access for efficient background checks across jurisdictions. These three rights Americans enjoy are in conflict with the necessity to protect he broader society from episodes of mass violence. As things stand today, Americans are free to die with their rights on.

Voters must hold your elected officials accountable for public policy action that comprehensively addresses the intersection of rights, mental illness and weapon possession. The status quo is unacceptable and our elected leaders must understand that reality. Interdisciplinary cooperation between those charged with law enforcement and those who provide services to the mentally ill has to be supported by integrated public policy. Only then can intervention reduce the risk of lethal violent outbursts from those suffering from mental illness. This is going to infringe on “rights” and increase health care costs. But these monies should be measured by the dear costs of those in Newtown, CT, Colorado or yet to occur massacres in public space.


None of the innocent people who have been the victims of mass violence should have died in vein. If, as a society, we do not act to address this issue the future responsibility rests with all of us for failing to demand protection and action from our government.


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