NY new Gun law: the good, the bad and the ugly.


This new gun control law stamps an indelible stigma on ALL people who have a diagnose of mental illness and on the developmentally disabled by the mere fact of opening the Act as a policy directed at reducing a right exclusively on those people.

Missing from the Act is the usual ’findings’ or ‘purpose’ that introduces the reasoning behind a government bill. That would have been the place to explain that this bill would not tolerate prejudice against mentally ill  people as a means to calm a fearful population. It seems to me that our legislators and governor were in a rush to pass something, anything related to the Sandy Hook massacre outrage, I guess, to gain political points at our expense.

This bill creates an automatic association between the mentally ill (who has committed no crimes) and criminals and the criminal justice system. It sanctions the stereotypical believe in our communities that ONLY mental illness and the mentally ill causes mass killings.

It also surreptitiously takes care of mentally ill people who the mental health professionals may ‘guess’ can kill without guns. The insistence on amendments to the AOT law points to that possibility, considering that it only deals with the when and how to get a person into the program.

We ought to know by now that involuntary commitment leaves its victim with a permanent stigma.  ‘You are in the AOT program? They carted you away against your will? Wow, you must really be crazy.’ Circumstances don’t matter to the public, whether it happened one time, as a result of a mistake or prank by a disgruntled relative, whether you are fine now, whether you were right in refusing medication (wait until you get there, pal)…

But let’s not be so negative, let’s find the good in the bill. The good is that SOME weapons were ‘controlled’. Also, that it addressed the issue of violence against spouses and partners. I know nothing about guns, thus I assume that this bill puts a little scratch on the NRA’ self-esteem. But that’s about the entire positive I can find here.

One of the ‘bad’ in the bill is that it was written behind closed doors. It probably has to do with the NRA’s representatives working with our ‘leaders’ in casting all the attention on the mentally ill: guns don’t kill, only the mentally ill kills, according to them.

Of course, that we live in a society were gun violence is our favorite entertainment (video games and in the movies – the bigger the gun A’nold carries in the movies, the more ‘manlie’ he is) does not matter to anyone as a link to gun violence in our streets.

Nor that our current wave of violence may be related to the nation’s economic woes, as is usual in times like these. It may have something to do with how our citizens are responding with violence and depression (suicide) to the pressures of losing their jobs and their housing to foreclosure. And there’s no mention either to fixing the broken mental health system.

Those are huge issues, difficult to handle; the class of ‘mentally ill people’ is easier to manage, although controlling them will not fix the problem.

Another bad is that the law is  to control not only SOME guns, but also the lives and the civil liberties of the people less likely to kill with guns: the developmentally disabled, and those who seek but fail to get mental health treatment. In many cases, the result of neglect or reduced services is deterioration, which leads to forced treatment and commitment later. It is so much easier and inexpensive to let you break down and then pick up your pieces, not.

The bill also controls ALL prisoners before they are released. The Act mandates that they be ‘assessed’ to see if these soon-to-be ex-cons need the services of an AOT program.

Why would our legislators make that requirement? Why ‘examine’ those who were imprisoned for un-armed crimes like theft or lying to get more food stamps? Simple answer: it’s an acknowledgment that our prisons are the psychiatric hospitals of the new millennium.

The purpose of that provision is not to ‘catch’ the criminals who may pose a threat to you out there, but to hold the mentally ill who is there because our budget cuts have closed psychiatric hospitals and there is not enough resources in the community to comply with federal mandates about placing them in the ‘least restrictive setting’.

This secondary gain of this bill can’t be officially mentioned; it would be to confess how broken our mental system is. It’s not me saying that it’s broken; it was the NY Medicaid Redirect Team who said that the system is ‘fragmented’, meaning ‘broken’. The chances of you passing a test to assess that you need  an AOT  program are high considering that you are coming out from prison, where violence is the rule.

With the amendment to the AOT law, the state will keep you longer under its control. The amendment extends  from six months to one year now the period of  ‘observation’ on restricted civil liberty.  A better name for this  bill would be ‘an Act to control the mentally ill and the developmentally disabled’.

And then there’s the ‘ugly’: The FBI list of the mentally ill and the developmentally disabled.

First, notice that there is not a list in our nation of people who committed crimes with guns. There’s the list of sex offenders, with its ugly consequences of including innocent people and those whose crime was to go to a porn parlor for adults, and the spending money tracking them once in the community. And then, there’s the Department of Homeland Security’s list of “terrorists”.

We should have learned by now the dangers of any “list” made to brand people as this or that. Initially, the “terrorist” list was meant for a few ‘suspects’, now it includes hundreds of thousands of people and groups whose ‘crime’ is their dissent of some government actions. And once in the list, you cannot expunge your name from it even if you are there by mistake.

But this new FBI list is only for the mentally ill and the developmentally disabled. Even one involuntary commitment is enough to put you in  that list. The potential of the list being used later for something else, or ‘hacked’ and used by insurance companies to deny you services and coverage is high. Never heard of incidents like that happening anywhere in the USA?

I find it difficult to believe that anyone would want their kids or parents in a FBI list for ANY reason, let alone as members of a class deemed a threat to “the safety” of the community because of their illness. Will we soon be labeled a “threat” to national security too? History tells me that when the government brands you as a threat, you start to lose your civil rights. Remember the Japanese camps during the Second World War?

So, being ill is now a reason to diminish your status as a citizen.

The implications of this Act are too subtle to be noticed by our regular citizen who has no experience with the mental health system. This bill is a knee jerk reaction to a complex situation, the mental health system in our state and our nation.

People continue to refer to us, the mentally disabled,  in the third person, we still don’t have a voice to tell the story of our experience in the mental health system. We can talk about how it feels to be depressed but not about the abuse  and neglect received from those hired to help us. This bill makes things more difficult for us with its stigmatizing rules.

Because it stigmatize people with mental disabilities and people with developmental disabilities, we should all be ashamed of this bill.

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