Ann Coulter released a column today called “Guns Don’t Kill People, The Mentally Ill Do“ (h/t Furrystoat). Fortunately, the title is just Ann Coulter being provocative. I agree with her thesis. Severely mentally ill people who clearly pose a threat to other people should be institutionalized.
However, there is a caveat. I worry that every kid who is a bit strange is going to be accused of being a potential mass murderer. I wrote a post about this a while ago. But, as people rightly turn their attention on the real cause of these mass murders (i.e. severely mentally ill people), it seems inevitable that there will be a witch-hunt, to rid society of anyone who might possibly do such a thing. All in the name of safety. However, some people will surely be overlooked regardless. “Safety,” in every case, is nothing more than an illusion. There is no way to make everything completely safe. Danger is just reality. And, while there are ways to mitigate the danger, it can never be removed completely. That is just a fantasy. Here is a famous quote from Benjamin Franklin:
Those who would give up Essential Liberty to purchase a little Temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.
It is completely true. In almost every case, it seems, limitations to liberty in the name of safety provide little or no safety. Consider every homicide that happens, and consider how much of those are committed by severely mentally ill people. It isn’t a very large amount. Most homicides are committed for other reasons (in the United States and Canada, it is mostly gang violence). So, even if James Holmes or Adam Lanza were incarcerated and didn’t commit their murders, it would have caused a minor dent in the statistics (obviously that would be a good thing, and, again, I’m not arguing that they shouldn’t have been locked up. Just be patient).
There are calls to make it easier to institutionalize the mentally ill. Again, I agree, but this is for something that these people haven’t even done yet. You’d better be damn sure that they are going to something. Most people probably don’t view themselves as mentally ill, but the mentally ill have exactly the same rights as everyone else does. And a system that allows for people to be incarcerated easily (especially when they are guilty of nothing) is going to infringe on people’s liberty. And you’d better hope that the wrong people never get into power, because if it is easy to incarcerate people, then the system would be easy to take advantage of for political purposes.
I realize that there is nothing the government can do to ensure that everyone’s liberty is respected 100% of the time. It is always going to make mistakes. The idea is to find the system that results in the least infringement. It is easy to just say that the mentally ill should be locked up or that guns should be banned, but, if not done carefully in the case of the former and in every case in the case of the latter, those things both fail to solve the problem and create a bunch of new problems.