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President's Column

By David A. Keene, President

Ignoring Deranged People Is Wrong-Headed And Dangerous

A few months ago, a mentally unhinged New York City woman pushed an Indian man she had never met onto the subway tracks as a train was approaching. He was killed. She claimed she did it because she hates Muslims and Hindus. It turned out that she had been treated at a New York psychiatric hospital and her mother had called police at least five times due to her violence at home. She had even assaulted a police officer. She was arrested at least nine times and either released outright or allowed to plead guilty to assault and other charges without jail time or remand to a mental facility for treatment.

A violence-prone schizophrenic who refused to take her medication, the woman was a danger to herself and to her community, a fact known to her mother, her doctor and to the police.

Her case is not all that exceptional. It hit the papers when she murdered a man, just as the cases of the recent school and theater murderers became news when the time bombs inside the perpetrators’ heads went off and they ran amok. But in virtually every case there were signs that those around them should have noticed. In the case of the Aurora murderer, the only person who encountered him and refused to deal with him was a gun dealer who suspected that he was as crazy as he turned out to be.

Since the mid-1960s, the NRA has been urging that government, at all levels, take steps to force the dangerously mentally ill to get treatment or to get them off the street. NRA members have argued that information on those legally adjudicated as mentally ill and potentially dangerous be included in the federal databases checked when one purchases a firearm. More than 20 states still have failed to input this information—which means that some people who shouldn’t be allowed to purchase any firearm can do so.

Not everyone suffering mental distress, mild depression or dozens of other conditions that can, and perhaps should, be treated by mental health professionals is dangerous. But violent schizophrenics and others who often refuse to take the medications that allow them to function as part of a civilized society should be monitored and kept away from potentially dangerous weapons. In recent decades more and more people as dangerous as the Newtown murderer and the New York subway killer have been “deinstitutionalized.” Now, they are either in prison because they have already lost control of their emotions, or wandering our streets because they haven’t yet committed the sort of violent acts that will finally force lax law enforcement and mental health bureaucracies to take action.

Had we come to grips with this problem earlier, the man who died on the subway tracks in New York would be alive. So might the children killed in Newtown in December and too many others who have died at the hands of deranged killers over the last few decades.

It is impossible to predict who might turn into the next subway killer or school attacker. That’s why security is so important and why so many schools already protect their students by posting police or armed security guards within their schools. But people who notice the signs exhibited by the clearly disturbed should bring their concerns to the attention of school officials or police who, in turn, should act on those concerns.

In fact, predicting who might be mentally dangerous is complicated and fraught with dangers of its own of which we should be aware. Overreaction should be avoided. Civil and law enforcement authorities should never be given the power to willy-nilly categorize people as some sort of threat as an excuse to deprive them of their Second Amendment rights. But there are those who are clearly dangerous and ignoring the threat they pose is just as dangerous.

The mothers of the Newtown and New York killers knew something had to be done and both tried to get the authorities to act. Both failed and as a result
27 innocents never saw the New Year.