Mental Health Background Checks

Updated: September 18, 2013


By Mr. Twisted

With the recent shooting at the Washington, D.C. Navy Yard, legislative proposals and knee-jerk reactions are starting once more regarding what we should do to prevent another event like this one. And, just as with previous incidents that were similar in nature, the concept of “mental health background checks” is once again making its way into public discourse.

I believe it is important to address this topic now, but also to do it in a way that may cover some new ground. Make no mistake, mental health background screening is a really bad idea and I welcome anyone trying to tell me differently—after they read the following.

I want you to imagine that there is a product that is widely popular in America. Not everyone uses that product, but everyone is aware of it. Perhaps more importantly, everyone has preconceived notions about what that product does, how it affects lives, and whether those are mostly positive or negative.

Most use this product responsibly. The majority of those who purchase, own, and use this product are rather conservative in doing so, but there are still extremes; those who go bat-shit crazy with its use and break the law while doing so, thus painting it in a very ugly light.

Those who are opposed to the product see only these examples. They note that those who use the product act like maniacs and therefore equate the majority of its uses to these most extreme cases. They argue that the extreme uses of this product cause mass harm to innocent people around the country, putting the whole in danger for the benefit of a few.

It is from this premise that those who are opposed to the use of this product advocate for legislation that will prevent it from being used by those who have no business doing so. Only those who are “extreme” in nature will be prevented from its use, they say.

This will be accomplished, the public is told, by “mental health screening” prior to purchase of the product. Those who are mentally stable have nothing to hide, so they will be fine. It is only those who are unstable that will be prevented from owning or using the product.

Retailers who sell this product become understandably concerned. How will this work? Are we to trust the clerk at the store to do an evaluation of every individual interested in this product? Of course not, they say; this will be handled by professionals. Which professionals? Why, mental health professionals, of course.

Well, that sounds reasonable. But how will these mental health professionals know about the person attempting to purchase the product? They will know based on the background check done at the point of sale.

That makes sense. But if the retail outlet is not conducting the check, who is? An independent government agency, of course.

Sure, okay. But how do they have records on the mental health of the purchaser? Because the independent government agency has access to them, of course. But don’t worry—they can be trusted because they’re from the government.

Annnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnd ka-blammo. Doctor/patient privacy is destroyed with one fell swoop and medical practices as we know them come undone faster than a boy band’s time in the spotlight.

Does anyone know or understand what HIPAA is? The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act was signed into law in 1996, but essentially just made a national standard what had existed for years—namely, the rights of a patient to not have their doctors share medical information with anyone and everyone. It’s what keeps your doctor from telling your friends about what that green stuff really is, so to speak.

A mental health background check by a retailer and/or law enforcement undoes all of that and destroys the very foundation of doctor/patient privacy, as it allows—or even forces—a physician to share individual medical records with multiple government agencies. The problems here are, as anyone can easily see, astronomical in size and scope.

But wait, here’s the real kicker. What was the “product” I was referring to throughout the post? I never said what it was, and left it ambiguous for a reason. I want you to now imagine this product as being…


Let that sink in for a moment and, before you think the comparison is absurd and call me nasty names, think about these questions:

  •  You don’t really need more than a six pack a week, do you?
  •  Who needs more than one bottle of whiskey?
  •  Why would any sane person need an entire keg of beer?
  •  People who want multiple bottles of vodka and rum are obviously compensating for something.
  •  Laws restricting the amount of alcohol you can drink at one time are common sense!!!
  •  We just want to prevent the “mentally unstable” from buying alcohol, so you have nothing to worry about, right?

alcoholOf course this is ridiculous, but ask yourself; why does this seem so obviously stupid and yet our legislators get away with the same kind of talk regarding a product that is protected in the Bill

of Rights? Imagine, if you will, a high-profiled legislator asking those very questions and proposing legislation limiting alcohol immediately following the death of a victim of drunk driving? They would be considered an absolute laughing stock—as well they should be.

In no way is this to minimize the victims of a certain crime—or any crime for that matter. This is simply to show the absurdity of an idea if we follow it through to its logical conclusion and apply it to more than one product.

Legislators are quick to pounce on the topic of guns because it buys them headlines and, subsequently, votes. So next time they are making erroneous statements about “common sense restrictions,” sip your Scotch and imagine they are speaking about prohibition. It shines a light on just how insane the ideas really are.




  1. JoeC

    September 18, 2013 at 10:40 am

    What I want to know is this: How was he able to commit a gun crime in not one, but two areas where guns are banned. You can’t have one in DC and you can’t have one on post. How could this have happened? The law doesn’t allow it! Yet it is widely stated that banning guns, and more specifically “assault” weapons, is a solution.

  2. leftoftheboom

    September 18, 2013 at 10:42 am

    I would like to add one addition about HIPPA. Behavioral Health records are more stringently controlled than medical records. Access to medical records does not convey access to specific protected information such as behavioral health, sexually transmitted disease, alcohol and drug abuse, pregnancy, or abortion records. Those are controlled under “Sensitive Diagnosis” and are protected as such.

    The first issue as usual is the media attention. I got it, 12 people were murdered by someone. Expressed mathematically it is not a significant number. Yet here we go again trying to change the laws of the nation that affect 300 Million plus people just because one individual murdered 12 others.

    I don’t have hard numbers on drunken driving deaths around the U.S., or deaths in general. You know what I want to see? I want to see accurate reporting of deaths and cause of death around the entire U.S. on a searchable database. Every death results in a death certificate issued by the state. So why are they not an openly collated and researchable document? Because once we start seeing the truth, guns are going to become a lot less newsworthy. How many people died by assault and blunt force trauma the same day? No one knows.

    One individual murdered 12 people. The Department of Defense is now pushing to spend millions of dollars that we already don’t have to ensure the safety of every single base. People have already been investigated due to lax security clearance procedures and why, because it is always the best to find someone else to blame. Why can’t the blame just stay with the perp? Because the DOD was not complaining about cost cutting measures before this happened and now people are getting the axe because they “cut corners on security”.

    Basic security 101; You can change procedures to protect something or you can spend money to protect something or do both. Procedure can work so long as everyone follows the SOP or until procedure starts costing money.

    Situation: You close the gate and start inspecting every vehicle and bag. That is a procedure change. But with the current number of guards, you have a line that stretches out of sight and people have to show up earlier and earlier in order to get to work on time. In order to solve the problem you either pay for more guards or drop to random checks. Instead of inspecting every vehicle, you check every other one or you add guards. Say you want to add guards; you only have two gates and are physically limited by space. So you need to add a larger gate structure to incorporate more lanes and more guards so that you can inspect more cars efficiently. Now add seniority and power. Someone with enough rank that gets tired of all this and demands special consideration because “they” are important. Then everyone else does it and soon you are back to checking only a few random lower ranking people because of all the special passes.

    No one wants to spend the money to protect things the way they say they want them protected. We want gold quality at copper prices. That is not going to happen.

    The first thing is to quit getting bent out of shape because the media blows up the air waves and the internet with the “National Tragedy”. 9/11 was a national tragedy because our nation was deliberately attacked by an outside agency. This is a tragedy for the Navy yard and the families. It is not “National” it is local and does not require a National response. And it happened in one of the strictest gun control areas of the U.S. But more laws will fix the problem once we convince criminals to obey them.

    Instead of saying the word National replace it with 300 million people. Then Do the Math
    300,000,000 vs. 12; do we change laws for this ratio? Do we change national policy for this ratio?
    Not in my math book. And if you want to do so, show your work.

    • JoeC

      September 18, 2013 at 11:21 am

      Amen. Another thing to consider is that personal firearms are not categorically banned from bases, they simply have to be secured. If I take one on post I tell the guard up front “I have a personal firearm in my vehicle and will be dropping it off at the armory for storage during my time on base.” Done. My firearm and the ammo is now on post. To demonstrate how silly this is, condider what I have to do to actually check it in at the armory if I need something from the BX. I pull through the gate and tell them I’m checking a gun at the armory. 3 minutes later I drive past the BX and continue on for another 20 minutes to get to the armory where I check the firearm. I then drive 20 minutes back to the BX, take 5 minutes to run in and get what I need, go back to the armory to get my gun, then drive 23 minutes back to the gate and leave. That’s 46 minutes that an unsecured firearm is loose on the base. Or, I could drive to the BX, get my item and get out in 11 minutes having never been to the armory. Which is more in line with the intent of the reg and which follows the reg?

  3. leftoftheboom

    September 18, 2013 at 11:37 am

    Personnal I think we should all have a medical alert ID Card that can be scanned and showes that we have had our annual mental health screening with the provider results and contact information available to law enforcement on demand.

    And this is the order which everyone should go in order to obtain the first ID in the process.
    3.Supreme Court
    4.Federal Court
    5.State Department
    8.State Government
    10.State Police
    11.Everyone else.

    • John Tobin

      September 18, 2013 at 2:38 pm

      You missed a very important #1 The PotUS

  4. Justaguy

    September 18, 2013 at 11:56 am

    Hippa dosn’t protect mental health records if you are deemed a threat to yourself or others by the provider

  5. Bravo III

    September 18, 2013 at 12:20 pm

    I think this is a poor comparison. Ask yourself this – would you hand ‘Son of Sam’ a gun? What about responsible gun retailers who refuse to sell firearms and ammo to someone based on the suspicion of criminal intent? Such as in the case when someone doesn’t know what bullets go into their gun but want buy a few boxes? Should said retailer be vilified or commended? I don’t know how to solve this active shooter shit. No one does. Doing nothing but insisting more guns is better is equally as stupid as eliminating them. I will say this, if a dude on severe psychotropic drugs wants to wash it down with a bottle of Gin? God bless ’em. I don’t give a fuck. As long as he / she does it in the confines of their home, they can drink and pop pills until they see unicorns. Not my concern. You may as well have compared gun possession to personally owned, fully functional MBTs. Nothing in the constitution says I CAN’T have one or the rounds to fire it.

    • Joe

      September 18, 2013 at 1:54 pm

      The U.S. Constitution does not protect your right to an MBT though, so Congress is within it’s power to limit you in that.

      ‘Arms’ are different from ‘ordnance’.

  6. Stephen

    September 18, 2013 at 1:19 pm

    Not too long ago everyone was interested in the governments tactics in regards to violating personal privacy. NSA, drones etc. Everyone was up in arms about that media hype, jumping to defend their privacy.

    The recent shooting incident at the naval shipyard is the new media hype. Now everyone is jumping to openly violate personal privacy. Mental patients must be the at fault for this, therefore their privacy as well as HIPAA laws should be violated.

    An estimated 57.7 million people in the U.S. suffer from mental illness. This also includes eating disorders, OCD, ADHD and autism. I guess their privacy just lost importance as well.

    People are going to die from intentional, unintentional, accidental and natural causes. It is important to understand that life happens. It is also important to understand that the more the media blows things out of proportion, the better their ratings. Are you decisions driven by critical thinking or what the media wants you to think?

  7. Michael Highers

    September 18, 2013 at 4:39 pm

    Alcohol is the perfect example, here’s why its just like guns:

    “Normally, no American government would engage in such business. … It is only in the curious fanaticism of ____________ that any means, however barbarous, are considered justified.”

    -Not “National Security” or “Terrorism”. The correct answer to this quote is “Prohibition”. The government intentionally caused the death of thousands by ordering poison to be added to all alcohol products. They thought it would be better, for a more moral society, and that made it okay.

  8. Alex B

    September 18, 2013 at 7:41 pm

    Consider what problems the military already has trying to reduce the stigma associated with seeking help for PTSD. Now imagine telling these Soldiers that if they seek help from a mental health provider, they then have a legitimate chance of having someone from the government come to collect their personal firearms. It seems like a step backward to me, considering how many suicides the military has had over the past ten years compared to deaths in ‘mass’ shootings.

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