AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki
Most states have some version of a law that allows the authorities to detain you for up to 72 hours due to mental health reasons. It’s not a case of being “adjudicated as mentally defective.” It’s a temporary hold designed to keep people from hurting themselves or others.
Yes, the law has all kinds of problems.
Now, Washington state is considering a bill that would have even more issues.
The issues of behavioral health and gun rights collided Wednesday as the Washington state House of Representatives debated and ultimately approved a bill that backers say will help prevent suicides.
The bill imposes a six-month suspension on a person’s right to possess a firearm when that individual is detained under the state Involuntary Treatment Act for up to 72 hours for evaluation and treatment of a mental health or substance abuse disorder, even if he or she is no not subsequently committed.
“We know after these 72-hour holds that the risk of suicide is extraordinarily high,” said Rep. Laurie Jinkins, D-Tacoma. “We also know that a little bit over 50 percent of suicides in Washington state are committed by the use of a firearm. So trying to restrict the use and access to firearms until hopefully someone’s substance use or mental health stabilizes is really the goal of this bill.
“This limited restriction that is automatically lifted after six months will really help us saves lives in the state.”
SB 5181 would allow individuals whose gun rights are suspended to petition a Superior Court to get them restored earlier than six months. The burden of proof would be on the state to establish why the person should not get those rights back. The person’s right to possess a firearm is automatically restored when the six-month suspension ends.
If the person is still a danger or becomes one again, there are laws already in place to deal with that, as flawed as they are. Adding a provision to strip people of their Second Amendment rights for six months is too damn far.
“Oh, but you can petition the court to get them back.”
No. That’s not how your rights work. I don’t care that the burden of proof is on the state to show that you shouldn’t get those rights back. You shouldn’t have to beg permission for your freaking rights in the first place. Plus, let’s be honest here. You’re going to need a lawyer. While the burden of proof may supposedly be on the state, in reality, it’ll probably point to the involuntary confinement as ample evidence. The judge may or may not take that as sufficient, but without an attorney to argue your case, you’re in a tough spot.
That means it’ll become very expensive to get your gun rights back early. Expensive enough that most won’t bother, especially if it turns out that it takes five months to get a hearing and another three and a half weeks to argue everything. Yay! You got your rights back three days early, no one’s head is on a pike for stripping you of your rights, and you’re not bankrupt.
None of that touches on the fact that while proponents of the bill note that just over 50 percent of Washington’s deaths are suicides, they say nothing about how many of them had been involuntarily confined prior. None of that touches on the fact that just under 50 percent commit suicide with something other than a firearm.
In other words, this bill seeks to solve an issue with something that no one can show will have an impact at all.
Folks, while I am sympathetic to solving the issue of suicide, this isn’t going to do it. It may make the problem worse. How many people are likely to remain quiet because they fear they’ll be confined involuntarily? What about the fear of losing a civil liberty? It may make them clam up more, which isn’t good for dealing with suicidal thoughts. It’ll add another stigma to mental illness, which is something we don’t need.
Washington needs to forget this crap. Somehow, I doubt it will.