New Bill Promotes Forced Treatment as Panacea for Mass Shootings

On October 23, 2019, Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) announced the introduction of the Restoring, Enhancing, Strengthening and Promoting Our Nation’s Safety Efforts (RESPONSE) Act. His efforts come in the wake of two Texas mass shootings in El Paso and Midland-Odessa. When horrible tragedies happen, it’s human nature to want to do something–anything–to prevent future harm. After 9-11, for example, we got the Patriot Act. Like the Patriot Act, however, the RESPONSE Act will not accomplish its intended goal. And also like the Patriot Act, the RESPONSE Act will impose severe and unnecessary restrictions on the civil liberties of people alleged to be mentally ill.

The RESPONSE Act is based upon tired, soundly debunked theories that there is a link between mass violence and psychiatric disability. See this article https://bigthink.com/politics-current-affairs/gun-violence-mental-illness, in which the American Psychiatric Association says blaming mental illness for gun violence is “simplistic” and inaccurate.” As noted in the article, countless studies have found that there is no conclusive evidence that marks the mentally ill with having a greater predisposition for gun violence. Nonetheless, based on the erroneous assumption to the contrary, the Act would expand involuntary mental health treatment, including long-acting injectable antipsychotic drugs.

As noted by the author of this article, http://theconversation.com/guns-and-mental-illness-a-psychiatrist-explains-the-complexities-121480, we need to think carefully about what we label as “mental illness.” The Act does not define mental illness. Should we take guns away from veterans with PTSD? From dentists with depression? From people with OCD who pick at their skin? Even if we limit the definition to “serious” mental illnesses, conventionally used as a term for people diagnosed with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, only 3-4% of violent acts are committed by people with that label.

It’s no surprise that the proposed legislation is largely silent on the issue of gun control. Sen. Cornyn is highly ranked by the National Rifle Association (NRA) for his long-standing opposition to gun control legislation (such as expanding background checks for gun buyers). The NRA is a significant contributor to Sen. Cornyn’s campaign funds, to the tune of about $200,000 in donations. And he is up for reelection next year.

Politically motivated legislation such as this will do nothing to address gun violence in the U.S. Instead, it will fuel prejudice, fear, and marginalization of people with mental health issues. We know that gun violence is not a mental health issue. This bill is not the answer to gun violence.

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