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Nate Orshan
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Psssst, parents!

'“This isn’t a literary trend. This is an issue of our time,” said the novelist Jason Reynolds'
https://nyti.ms/2npFFrS

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"Once upon a land, in a different time
Telling any lie was a social crime..."

#AlternativeFacts

You want strong background checks? Me too! But here’s the thing: We shouldn’t use mental illness in and of itself as any sort of criterion. Here’s why.

We both want rational and effective firearms regulation, but just saying that we should keep guns out of the hands of “people with mental illness” essentially lumps every single person with any kind of mental illness into the same, undifferentiated group. It includes, say, a person working full-time while managing depression to a person with a trauma disorder to a person with an extremely debilitating degree of schizophrenia. Talk about painting folks with the same brush!

But let’s say we’re OK grouping all those people together from a gun-policy perspective: Even when we do consider whether there’s any statistical propensity for violence from people with any kind of mental illness, the answer’s a resounding “No”. The truth is that people with serious mental illness are over an order of magnitude less likely to commit an act of violence than people without mental illness. Per the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services:

====================================
…Most people with mental illness are not violent and only 3%-5% of violent acts can be attributed to individuals living with a serious mental illness. In fact, people with severe mental illnesses are over 10 times more likely to be victims of violent crime than the general population. You probably know someone with a mental health problem and don't even realize it, because many people with mental health problems are highly active and productive members of our communities.
https://www.mentalhealth.gov/basics/myths-facts/
====================================

OK, but what type of descriptors should we use when we want to enact a policy that attempts to keep firearms out of the hands of people most likely to murder? One easy label is, “people with a documented history of violence”.

And that gets us to the next problem: People like the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooter or the Pulse nightclub shooter didn’t have police records for violence. So how can we design background checks to keep guns out of such people’s hands?

Bad news for us: We can’t. Healthcare providers just don’t work well as a way to flag potential violent offenders.

In the American Journal of Public Health in 2015, two researchers from Vanderbilt University reviewed key academic literature, secondary sources, and primary source historical research, all to address a few firearms-related hypotheses, including the hypothesis we’re considering right here: “Psychiatric diagnosis can predict gun crime before it happens”. What their research found was that, bottom line, “psychiatrists using clinical judgment are not much better than chance at predicting which individual patients will do something violent and which will not.” (http://ajph.aphapublications.org/doi/pdfplus/10.2105/AJPH.2014.302242, and see also http://news.vanderbilt.edu/2014/12/mental-illness-wrong-scapegoat-shootings/).

And then there’s another really important issue: if we were to try to start requiring healthcare providers to be mandated reporters for the risk of non-specific gun violence (they currently do have to report if there’s a threat to a specific individual), that would drive a wedge between a lot of people with mental health issues and their therapists or psychiatrists. As distrust of clinicians increased, how many people in need of treatment would just stop going altogether, taking away crucial healthcare support?

So, if you want background checks for people who are mentally ill:
- You’re incorrectly lumping all people with any types of mental illness together
- You’re unfairly targeting a group which is demonstrably less likely to commit violence than “neurotypical” people
- You’re mistakenly assuming that clinicians can predict gun crime; they can’t
- You’re ironically making it less likely that people will seek treatment if they think a random remark might get them into the justice system

So please, in the name of fairness AND effectiveness, stop trying to keep guns out of the hands of people with mental illness, and keep on trying to keep guns out of the hands of people who have real records of perpetrating violent acts.

© Nate Orshan

Note: This is an updated version of an essay I shared in 2016: https://plus.google.com/u/0/+NateOrshan/posts/JLxG7ysN5bx

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NATE'S 200-CHARACTER REVIEW: “Raging Bull”
Heartbreaking masterwork. Younger me would be wowed by De Niro’s titular ferocity & physical transformation. Current me can’t miss the tragic wages of childhood trauma, never mentioned but so obvious.
{4 STARS}
https://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/raging_bull/

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Cousin Moon isn't your average indie band. It's actually more like three bands in one, given the songwriting and singing of three strong-but-simpatico musicians. I hear a lot of Wilco-ish influences, but with a creative attention span that prioritizes inventiveness ahead of getting stuck in a groove. And so many wonderful harmonies!

Burlingtonians: Phoebe Helander's from here originally!
https://cousinmoon.bandcamp.com/releases

#BTV #VT

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Not just your average, secular humanist song for the #Solstice. I hope it resonates with you. #WinterSolstice #FirstNightOfWinter

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Two new, must-hear stories from WNYC's On the Media:

- Putin expert Masha Gessen re not normalizing an autocrats' language and narrative
- Cognitive linguist George Lakoff re Trump's techniques -aided, unfortunately, by the journalists covering him- for effectively making people think what he wants them to think

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(Note: I updated this essay on 2017-03-15 and posted it to:
https://plus.google.com/u/0/+NateOrshan/posts/ZjLdcTdG9gc )

Letter to Politicians Who Talk About Keeping Guns Out of the Hands of “The Mentally Ill”
-------------------------------------

Please don’t use the phrase "the mentally ill" under any circumstance. It’s just hugely stigmatizing language that does nothing more than work to bring shame to a person with a mental illness.

You and I probably have a shared desire for more rational and effective firearms regulation, but just saying that we want to keep guns out of the hands of “people with mental illness” essentially lumps every single person with any kind of mental illness (from, say, a person working full-time while managing depression to a person with a trauma disorder to a person with an extremely debilitating degree of schizophrenia) into the same, undifferentiated group.

And never mind the inaccuracy of grouping all those people together from a gun-policy perspective: Even when you do consider whether there’s any statistical propensity for violence from people with any kind of illness, the answer’s a resounding “No”. The truth is that people with serious mental illness are over an order of magnitude less likely to commit an act of violence than people without. Per the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services:

==================================
…Most people with mental illness are not violent and only 3%-5% of violent acts can be attributed to individuals living with a serious mental illness. In fact, people with severe mental illnesses are over 10 times more likely to be victims of violent crime than the general population. You probably know someone with a mental health problem and don't even realize it, because many people with mental health problems are highly active and productive members of our communities.
https://www.mentalhealth.gov/basics/myths-facts/
==================================

OK, but what type of descriptors should we use when we want to enact policy that attempts to keep firearms out of the hands of people most likely to murder? One easy descriptor is, “people with a documented history of violence”.

But people like the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooter or the Pulse nightclub shooter didn’t have police records for violence. How can we design background checks to keep guns out of such people’s hands? Simple: we can’t.

Healthcare providers are an ineffective means of flagging would-be violent offenders. In the American Journal of Public Health in 2015, two researchers from Vanderbilt University reviewed key academic literature, secondary sources, and primary source historical research, all to address a few firearms-related hypotheses including the hypothesis we’re considering right here: “Psychiatric diagnosis can predict gun crime before it happens”. What their research found was that, bottom line, “psychiatrists using clinical judgment are not much better than chance at predicting which individual patients will do something violent and which will not.” (http://ajph.aphapublications.org/doi/pdfplus/10.2105/AJPH.2014.302242, and see also http://news.vanderbilt.edu/2014/12/mental-illness-wrong-scapegoat-shootings/).

And this doesn’t even address the issue that, if we were to try to make healthcare providers mandated reporters for just the would-be likelihood of gun violence, that would drive a wedge between a lot of people with mental health issues and their therapists or psychiatrists. How many would just stop going altogether, taking away crucial healthcare support?

Where discussing background checks are concerned, we need to never use mental illness in and of itself as any sort of criterion.

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Why is a referendum so unintuitively yet profoundly anti-democratic? Why is voting for somebody who doesn't have real plans for governing so self-destructive? This instant classic from Felix Salmon explains beautifully.

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