Buried in Connecticut's "historic" gun bill, which was passed in the early morning hours on April 4, was language that creates institutionalized discrimination against people who seek psychiatric help.
An Act Concerning Gun Violence Prevention and Children's Safety stipulates that individuals who voluntarily go to psychiatric hospitals have their names put into a department of public safety database overseen by the commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services. The bill mandates that people who voluntarily spend a night in a psychiatric hospital for "psychiatric treatment" have their constitutional Second Amendment right to bear arms suspended for six months.
Specifically, as of July 1, Connecticut law reads that individuals 18 years of age are eligible for a gun permit: "unless said commissioner finds … that the applicant has been voluntarily admitted to a hospital for persons with psychiatric disabilities, as defined in section 17a-495 of the general statutes, within the preceding six months for care and treatment of a psychiatric disability and not solely for being an alcohol-dependent person or a drug-dependent person."
Anyone who studies history or even thinks for five or 10 minutes about this idea might conclude that compiling a database of those who have accessed psychiatry — or a database of the labels psychiatry has given individuals — demonstrates that "the powers that be" view people who seek psychiatric treatment as distinctly inferior relative to humanity as a whole.
This law legalizes the societal practice of viewing a voluntary overnight stay in a psychiatric hospital as evidence that a person is unfit to enjoy all the rights granted to citizens, without being given due process or being convicted of a crime. Such a database opens the door for abuses and discrimination beyond just denying the constitutional right to bear arms to those labeled by psychiatry because of having psychiatric treatment (which alone is egregious). What if this database were ever glanced at by a state trooper conducting a traffic stop, a potential employer, a landlord etc.?
I despise guns and firmly believe that people with guns tend to kill more people than people without guns do. It is the idea of denying someone a right — without due process — because of a psychiatric label that scares me, and shouldn't be tolerated in a democratic society. Why are we giving psychiatric diagnoses and suspending constitutional rights when people voluntarily stay a night in a psychiatric hospital for any number of reasons, such as an inability to sleep after losing a loved one?
The way in which this measure was drafted into law scares me and tests my optimism. This measure was adopted by the House at 2:26 a.m. April 4 (about eight hours after the Senate approved it) as part of a voluminous, 139-page bill. In a celebratory atmosphere, the governor signed this bill into law around noon.
The gun control bill was pushed through with an emergency certification process, which shortcuts normal procedures, and no public hearing ever took place. If the General Assembly had given members of the public a chance to voice their opinions, Advocacy Unlimited, other organizations and concerned citizens would have mobilized.
We will, however, use the fear, disgust and anger this bill elicits as motivation and fuel to continue and intensify our work together. In a speech on Dec. 18, 1963, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. said, "there are certain things in our nation and in the world which I am proud to be maladjusted and which I hope all men of good-will will be maladjusted … I say very honestly that I never intend to become adjusted to segregation and discrimination."
Similarly, we will not become adjusted to discrimination against people who seek psychiatric help. We will not complacently accept bad ideas or dehumanizing and oppressive treatment.
Greg Benson,28, is a human rights advocate at Advocacy Unlimited Inc., based in Wethersfield.
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