It appears that the State of Wisconsin has played a major role (albeit indirectly) in the VTech massacre, as well as a more-recent, less-horrifying event in Moscow, ID.
Yup. It was us, folks.
Says Clay Cramer, a fellow who does a lot of research:
I'm reading Lessard v. Schmidt (E.D.Wisc. 1972). This is a landmark decision that struck down Wisconsin's commitment law, and apparently played a big role in starting us down the path we are on now. What a steaming pile this decision is.
...The patient, Alberta Lessard, was taken into custody after a suicide attempt. Significantly, while her attorney (from Wisconsin Legal Services, so the taxpayers paid some radical lawyer to create this mess) claimed that she had a right to an independent psychiatric examination
...Concerning the possibility that commitment was for the benefit of the patient, they decided that this wasn't a good enough reason, either, because while there was a legal right to be treated if you were committed, most mental illnesses weren't treatable. (By which they really meant, cure rates for paranoid schizophrenia were low, which isn't quite the same as "not treatable.")
Next, they argued that long-term treatment in mental hospitals made the mentally ill worse.
...They also insisted that because death rates in mental hospitals were about ten times higher than in the general population, that obviously, being in a mental hospital wasn't in a mental patient's best interest. They admitted that mental hospital populations were older than average, but would not admit that there might be other differences that might explain these much higher death rates. For example, until the 1960s, much of the population of mental hospitals were senile elderly people, and the syphilitic insane. Neither group ever recovered; both were destined to die in the hospital. It's depressing--but it also explains the high death rates, without being evidence that mental hospitals were dangerous for the mentally ill.
The upshot: for practical purposes, 'involuntary commitment' for psychiatric problems was made extraordinarily difficult, if not illegal.
Naturally, this had Unintended Consequences, the most common one being the almost-impossible task of forcing an alcoholic into a drying-out program (and the demise of DePaul Hospital in Milwaukee.)
But another Unintended Consequence was the ability of folks who were/are unstable to obtain guns. The Federal NICS-check does not include mental-stability-related events unless there was a formal commitment, which is how both the VTech* and Idaho* folks were able to obtain weapons:
...the federal Gun Control Act of 1968 bans firearm possession and gun transfers to anyone who has been involuntary committed to a mental institution or “adjudicated as a mental defective” in court — at least for several years after successful treatment.
But the prohibitions depend on record-keepers feeding data to the FBI. Only 22 states currently submit mental-health information to NICS’ Mental Defective File or its Denied Persons File, according to the FBI.
It gets worse:
Roughly 3 million Americans have been involuntarily committed to mental institutions, but the NICS database contains the names of fewer than 235,000.
Remember, the above 3 million are the people who were IN-voluntarily committed. Not folks who were accused of being a bit wacky (please don't ask my wife...) but were not committed due to Lessard.
Ain't it nice to know that Wisconsin is a leader? And that Wisconsin Legal Services Corp. is so committed to Liberty?
*Relevant posts are not individually linked. Scroll to May 7th entries re: VTech, and to May 21 & 22 for Idaho posts.
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The good news is that Wisconsin finally corrected their statute in 1995 to allow, with suitable due process protections, involuntary commitment of people who were in deep trouble, but not yet an imminent threat to others. State v. Randy H. (Wisc. 2002).
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