Mental Health Background Checks
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?
Of 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.