Jacob Sullum @ Reason:
The day of Adam Lanza’s murderous assault on Sandy Hook Elementary School, Mike Rogers said stricter gun control would not be an appropriate response. “The more realistic discussion,” said the Republican congressman from Michigan, “is how do we target people with mental illness who use firearms?”
Last week another Republican congressman, Howard Coble of North Carolina, agreed that “it’s more of a mental health problem than a gun problem right now.” And last Friday, when the National Rifle Association broke its silence on the Sandy Hook massacre, the group’s executive vice president, Wayne LaPierre, called for “an active national database of the mentally ill.”
Psychiatrically informed policies aimed at controlling people rather than weapons are popular in the wake of mass shootings, especially among those who rightly worry that gun restrictions will unfairly burden law-abiding Americans while failing to prevent future attacks. Yet treating gun violence as “a mental health problem” presents similar dangers.
An “active national database of the mentally ill” clearly would not have stopped Lanza, who used guns legally purchased by his mother. Even if he had bought the guns himself, it appears he would have passed a background check because he did not meet the criteria for rejection.
Federal law prohibits gun ownership by anyone who “has been adjudicated as a mental defective or has been committed to any mental institution.” Neither seems to have been the case with Lanza.
Acquaintances reported that Lanza might have had Asperger syndrome. That label, which soon won’t even count as a mental disorder anymore, is not much more informative than saying he was a shy, socially inept loner (which people who knew him also said).