Why 'Better Mental Health Treatment' Won't Prevent Future Sandy Hooks

One year
after the Sandy Hook massacre, Fox News
, “the White House has little to show for its aggressive
campaign to pass new gun control legislation” and is instead
“shifting its focus to mental health as a way to prevent future
shooting sprees.” Politically, that seems like a pretty smart move.
According to the latest Reason-Rupe
Public Opinion Survey
, 63 percent of Americans
 “tighter restrictions on buying and owning guns
would not be effective in preventing criminals from obtaining
guns.” And of various “factors that some say might have helped
prevent last year’s mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School,”
a plurality of 27 percent
“better mental health treatment,” an option that was
especially popular among independents and Republicans. Leading
defenders of Second Amendment rights have been trying to
change the subject
from gun control to mental health since
shortly after the massacre, and it looks like they have succeeded
pretty well. The problem is that controlling crazy people
makes no more sense
than controlling guns as a response to
Sandy Hook. 

What would “better mental health treatment” have meant for Adam
Lanza, and how might it have stopped him from murdering 20 children
and seven adults (including his mother)? According to the official
issued last month by State’s Attorney Stephen Sedensky,
Lanza “had significant mental health issues that affected his
ability to live a normal life and to interact with
others,” but it is not clear whether those problems
“contributed in any way” to his crime. His mother attributed his
shyness, isolation, and rigidness to Asperger syndrome, a condition
that has never been associated with an elevated risk of violence.
And while it is never hard to find details in the lives of mass
killers that in retrospect look like red flags (such as an interest
in morbid topics, firearms, or violent video games), almost no one
who displays these purported warning signs becomes a violent
criminal, let alone commits mass murder.

“Those mental health professionals who saw [Lanza] did not see
anything that would have predicted his future behavior,” Sedensky’s
report says. “Investigators…have not discovered any evidence that
the shooter voiced or gave any indication to others that he
intended to commit such a crime.” In high school, Lanza “was not
known to be a violent kid at all and never spoke of
violence….Despite a fascination with mass shootings and firearms,
he displayed no aggressive or threatening tendencies.”

The idea that mental health professionals can accurately predict
which seemingly harmless people will turn violent has no basis in
fact. “Over thirty years of commentary, judicial opinion, and
scientific review argue that predictions of danger lack scientific
rigor,” notes University
of Georgia law professor Alexander Scherr in a
2003 Hastings Law Journal article. “The sharpest
critique finds that mental health professionals perform no better
than chance at predicting violence, and perhaps perform even

If everyone who behaves like Lanza did prior to his horrifying
crime is to be stripped
of his Second Amendment rights
and/or forced
to undergo psychiatric treatment
, a lot of innocent people who
pose no threat to others will
lose their freedom
. Should everyone diagnosed with Asperger
syndrome (or, to use the newer terminology, everyone placed on the
“autism spectrum”) be deemed a threat to public safety, based on
this sample of one? A year ago, National Rifle Association
Executive Vice President Way LaPierre
“an active national database of the mentally
ill,” which taken literally would include information on something
like half
the population
. Even then, future mass murderers would not
necessarily be on LaPierre’s list, since they typically do not
receive psychiatric diagnoses until after they commit their

The reasoning behind “better mental health treatment” as a way
to prevent mass shootings starts with the tautological premise that
only crazy people commit such crimes and proceeds to the conclusion
that letting them go untreated is reckless. But people prone to
mass murder are not likely to welcome treatment, which means they
must be forced. And so must many other people who will never hurt
anyone, since we cannot identify mass murderers ahead of time. Such
massive coercion can be rationalized as “help,” but that is not the
way its targets will perceive it.    

from Hit & Run http://reason.com/blog/2013/12/13/why-better-mental-health-treatment-wont

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