Are There Fewer Mass Shootings in Europe Because Involuntary Commitment is Easier?

It’s an interesting question partly raised by Walter Russell Mead’s The Invisible Trigger. Mead notes a study that shows that more than half of mass shooters were suffering from mental illness. He goes on to discuss the dehospitalization movement.

Today, the picture is eerily reminiscent of the 19th century. According to the National Institute of Mental Illness, approximately half of people living with bipolar disorder or schizophrenia are left untreated in any given year. Large numbers find themselves on the streets or in prison.  The Los Angeles County Jail, Rikers Island Jail in New York City, and the Cook County Jail in Illinois make up the three largest inpatient psychiatric facilities in the country.

Families have born the brunt of the burden, and they have very little help. The criteria for commitment are subjective at best. Few judges or law enforcement agents want to get involved with these cases since the resources for commitment are scarce. The best available options are visits to the emergency room, providing temporary relief, or prison, and many families are understandable hesitant to press charges.

Involuntary commitment tends to be easier to achieve in most First World countries. European countries, Australia and New Zealand all make involuntary commitment much easier.

In the UK “Sectioning” allows people with mental problems to be involuntarily committed under the 1983 Mental Health Act. There are similar laws around the world that allow for temporary or even indefinite detention. And while I’m not necessarily in favor of such laws, it is worth wondering whether they have saved lives.

In Britain, the 1983 Mental Health Act modified the procedures for involuntary admission to hospital. The Act provides for compulsory admission on an emergency (up to 72 hours) and non-emergency (longer periods of time) basis. The criteria for compulsory admission for assessment for a period of up to 28 days (section 2) or compulsory admission and detention for treatment for an initial period of up to six months (section 3) include “health or safety of the patient or for the protection of other persons” (Roberts, 1991). This criterion is wider than that of the dangerousness criterion applied in the U.S. As Gostin (1986) points out, the British law does not limit its scope to protect from physical harm.

The trouble with both sides of the argument is that it comes down to the issue of taking away the freedom of some, on limited grounds or no grounds at all, to protect the general public, and that’s a dangerous line.

Involuntary commitment deprives fewer people of their freedom than banning guns, but in a more severe way. The question as always is how do we balance the freedom of some or all against the lives of some.

There are cynical ways to make that argument. Obama surrounding himself with kiddie human shields is a classic example of the most egregiously shameless and dishonest way of making that argument.

But if as a practical matter we can’t do much to keep dangerous weapons out of the country, we can do something about keeping dangerous people away from them. This is not just a question of background checks; it is also a question of rebuilding our ability to protect society from people whose mental state makes them a threat to society at large. In dealing with the potentially violent mentally ill, we need to balance the potential danger to society more effectively against the loss of individual freedom. Building better facilities for the mentally ill and being more proactive about putting dangerous people in them is a necessary precaution given the abundance of weapons in these United States.

And what applies to mental illness, also applies to immigration from some of the more violent parts of the world.

  • asd2mom

    Not sure how helping the mentally ill segways into immigration reform…somehow the author thinks that the mentally ill are akin to murderous illegal immigrants.? Not for nothing the comparison is insulting and uneducated, Stay on topic…. Oh I get it, according to the author, the mentally ill are akin to a bunch of murderous thugs who need to be removed from our society.

    This post isn't about helping the mentally ill, God forbid. This post is about marginalizing and demonizing the mentally ill. The tenure of this post is indicative of the problems that the mentally ill face in this society. Is it not a wonder that people refuse to not only get the help they need but even their families refuse to accept how in need many mentally ill happen to be. Who accepts being held up to such ridicule.

    Next time how about a real post about helping the mentally ill get the help they need without the vitriol.

  • AdinaK

    One can't imagine why an involuntary admit, of a professionally diagnosed individual, is a violation of their rights. In fact, how many truly unbalanced people will admit that they are a danger to themselves or society at large? Exactly.
    So the question becomes: why have leftist pols and their agitators – who claim to care so much about the kiddies, and innocents in general- make it near impossible to commit someone in the U.S.? Well, it is hardly a secret that leftists in the land of the free, the home of the brave, are anything but concerned. They will do anything to keep control, and it is easier to grab control when crazies are out there, doing heaven knows what. Alas, "big brother" will swoop in as "savior" Sheesh.
    Sounds crazy. I know. But it is patently obvious too. Leftist dogma is at its root and there is no arguing with their ideology, even if it means using the children as props –

    Adina Kutnicki, Israel –

  • Memory Stick

    Right on, asd2mom. The mental health community has some serious problems that everyone glosses over with assumptions of fairness and actual concern about patients. More conservatives need to educate themselves about the history of this brutal field. You can check out books like Dr. Peter Breggin's Toxic Psychiatry, Dr. Colin Ross' CIA Doctors, Dr. Harvey Weinstein's account of his own father's encounter with notorious psychiatrist nutball Dr. Ewen Cameron, and look at Robert Proctor's Racial Hygiene: Medicine Under the Nazis for details.

    Among the highlights are involuntary, bizarre "medical" experiments on people who were made out to be mentally ill, wildly inappropriate treatments that destroyed people's sanity, the rise of "authoritarian psychiatry" in the Nazi era worldwide as well as the sordid history of Dr. Ernst Rudin, originator of the final solution when it was initially used on psychiatric patients. Rudin was never tried at Nuremburg, and word is that his work was accepted without much soul-searching post-war. Then, you can start researching the way Communist governments have typically co-opted psychiatry as an enforcer of their political views. Lots of Russians ended up in mental hospitals for their religious or political beliefs, as the Chinese reportedly also are now. Given the battles over the vagueness and broadening of the latest DSM manuals where just about everything can be labeled mental illness, we're not far from ending up in this position as it stands. Even here in the US, things are far from good or fair.

    So yes, by all means, let's just give these people even more power without accountability, so then your mother who likes to talk to plants can be involuntarily committed for being crazy, and you can sleep safely knowing you've won one for freedom.

  • Mary Sue

    This is how places like Cuba have so little crime! They lock up everybody!

    Now, most communist regimes arbitrarily diagnosed "mental illness" when it was in fact dissent (which they probably make a good excuse to the true believing people that anyone who disagreed with the Worker's Glorious Revolution HAD to be nuts), they more than likely locked up ALL the really crazy people too.

    However, yeah. Not a good situation overall.

  • PAthena

    Mental institutions in the United States and Canada were shut down because some government officials found out that it was cheaper to put the mentally ill into jail on vagrancy charges than to put them into mental institutions. That is why jails like Rikers have the largest number of mentally ill.

  • Anonymous

    Perhaps there are other factors in need of consideration — not just whether or not a person is mentally ill. Some studies have found that violence in the mentally ill correlates with such factors as gender, age, previous convictions or run-ins with the police, and (one of the most important factors) substance abuse.

  • Keith Isaacs

    That certainly is a possibility, but there could also be other reasons. For example, there could be enough treatment from the domestic to professional level that helps prevent berserk attacks.