The wrong mental-health mentality
We could jail every autistic person in the United States, and it wouldn't make a dent in the nation's murder rate.
Rushing to judgment in reaction to the Sandy Hook massacre, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, waiving a constitutionally required three-day waiting period between the introduction of a bill and a vote on the legislation, signed into law a sweeping package of gun-control measures that include provisions targeting the mentally ill.
Concocted behind closed doors, rushed through New York's legislature without the required public hearings and voted on by politicians who hadn't read it, New York's new gun-control statute requires doctors, therapists and other mental health professionals to report clients to the government who are “likely to engage in conduct that would result in serious harm to self or others.”
Unfortunately, the outcome of therapy isn't as straightforward as chemistry. Mixing chlorine bleach with vinegar will produce a toxic vapor. But it's trickier to foretell whether someone is “likely to engage” in dressing up as the Joker and shooting up a Batman movie theater audience.
Nevertheless, police in New York under the new law are authorized to confiscate any weapons of a person designated as “likely” to cause harm.
In addition to violating the confidentiality of the doctor-patient relationship, the new law undoubtedly will discourage a certain portion of troubled people from seeking mental health treatment or speaking truthfully to mental health professionals about irrational thoughts, homicidal rages or violent impulses.
Consequently, the unintended consequence of this government database of allegedly menacing people is likely to be less treatment for those who need it the most.
News reports repeatedly stated that the Sandy Hook killer had Asperger's syndrome, a form of autism, forming in the public mind a connection between autism and mass murder.
Weighing in on autism and violence, the Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee, an advisory agency to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, issued the following statement:
“There is no scientific evidence linking autism spectrum disorder with homicides or other violent crimes. In fact, court records suggest that people with autism are less likely to engage in criminal behavior of any kind compared to the general population, and people with Asperger's syndrome, specifically, are not convicted of crimes at higher rates than the general population.”
What put the Connecticut killings in the headlines is that the murdered children at the elementary school were all killed at one time by one person. What doesn't focus the public's attention in the same way is that we've had the equivalent of thousands of Sandy Hooks in the United States by way of an unrelenting day-by-day carnage.
“The number of children and teens killed by guns in 2006 would fill more than 127 public school classrooms of 25 each,” reported the Children's Defense Fund in a 2009 report. “The number of children and teens killed by guns since 1979 would fill 4,304 public school classrooms of 25 students each.”
Stating this 1979-2006 toll in another way, “Since 1979, gun violence has ended the lives of 107,600 children and teens in America. Sixty percent of them were white; 37 percent were black.”
This slaughter wasn't committed by roving gangs of autistic people.
Ralph R. Reiland is an associate professor of economics at Robert Morris University and a local restaurateur. His email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Mt. Lebanon native, Iraq war hero’s action goes unrewarded
- NFL coaches weigh in on Polamalu’s legacy
- Hit sends Penguins’ Letang to hospital
- Shortfalls sabotage promise of a union retiree’s pension
- Pirates pitchers finding success with expanded strike zone
- Man rescued from sinkhole in McKeesport
- Starkey: Next frontier for Steelers offense
- Pirates notebook: Polanco’s power outburst a matter of timing
- Probiotic bacteria help conquer ‘superbugs’
- Downie’s goal, fight spark Penguins to win over Coyotes
- Tourists rush to visit Cuba before American influence felt