Leonid Brezhnev is smiling …or “Cuomo’s Small Step Toward Punitive Psychiatry”

In Massachusetts, a bill filed by Representative David Linsky (Democrat – of course!) includes a provision that “Requires all applicants for gun licenses and FID cards to sign a waiver of mental health records for review to be destroyed after decision” [1]. In addition, the bill also requires “courts in Massachusetts to transmit relevant mental health records to the state’s criminal justice information system so the information can be included in a national registry that officials in all states can access when making decisions about issuing gun licenses.” [2].

In New York, the freshly-minted gun control bill includes provisions that seriously worry mental-health experts and advocates of the rights of the mentally ill. The Mental Health Association of New York State’s representative Glenn Liebman, in particular, voiced his concern that excessively focusing on the mental-health aspects of mass shootings would “unfairly stigmatize people with mental illness as more violent than the rest of society”. In addition, Liebman pointed out that people with mental illness are 12 times more likely to be the victims of violence, than perpetrators of violence.

Liebman also highlighted the provisions that would require mental health professionals to report patients to the authorities, upon suspicion of danger to themselves or others. The report would cause a “red flag” in a centralized database, triggering a confiscation of the patient’s guns(s) as well as preventing them from ever buying a gun in the future. [3]

Maryland’s “tough-on-crime” (yeah, that worked out great for Baltimore) Governor Martin O’Malley is pushing for a bill that, among the typical provisions banning things that would have absolutely no effect on mass shootings, also calls for [4]:

  • Mandatory reporting requirements “for psychologists and a host of other professionals, including social workers, addiction treatment counselors, educators and probation agents. Someone who threatens “serious violence” toward a particular person or threatens to commit suicide would have to be reported to local law enforcement officials.”
  • Broadening “the categories of people prohibited from possessing firearms beyond the current standards, which include that a person suffers from a mental disorder and has a history of violent behavior or that a person has been confined for more than 30 consecutive days in a facility that treats mental disorders.”
  • Creating 2 additional categories of persons prohibited from owning guns: “people under guardianship who can’t care for themselves or manage their affairs and those who have been civilly committed, if a judge finds evidence that they are a danger.”
  • Establishing a 24-hour hotline “for people to report a family member or friend who they think is suffering a sudden mental decline in late adolescence.”

There are a few more states whose legislators and executives are calling for tougher mental-health restrictions related to firearms ownership. One thing they all have in common, one recurring theme, is the two-edged sword of reporting requirements and the extremely vague definitions of precisely what should be reported.

Even disregarding the incredible increase in stigma of people with mental-health problems, ignoring the unfairness of permanently banning someone from owning a firearm, regardless of the changes in their condition, and setting aside the huge conflict between the new legal requirements and the existing doctrine of doctor-patient confidentiality – all topics which deserve their own discussions – one extremely troubling thing lurks behind the dry legal text.

Punitive psychiatry.

“What IS ‘punitive psychiatry’?”, you may ask. Well, Dear Reader, let’s take a trip through history. The history of the Soviet Union in the late 1960′s through the 1980′s, specifically. During the rule of Leonid Brezhnev as the General Chairman of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union – a deceptively-named position somewhere between “President” and “dictator” – the Soviet government loved to use vague diagnoses and even invented diseases to prosecute the dissidenty that they could not nail to the wall using legal methods. If a dissident was politically connected, and/or well-known enough, the State Security Committee (yes, that’s what the dreaded “KGB” actually stands for – Komitet Gosudarstvennoj Bezopasnosti… such an innocuous name, with so much blood behind it… but I digress) couldn’t simply arrest the man, there would be some public outcry. Not that the outcry would amount to much – Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn explained the reasons why a rebellion or even organized resistance was improbable after the 1940′s and outright impossible in the USSR after the 1970′s or so – but the Communist Party was extremely concerned with maintaining its image in the eyes of the West, and any “unpleasantness” was to be avoided if possible. Not out of concern for individual rights, or the welfare of the nation, but simply for the veneer of prosperity and propriety that they’ve worked SO hard to build and maintain.

The dissidents couldn’t be charged with any actual crime, because they were very intelligent and paranoid (they had NO illusions about whom they were dealing with), and even if they were to engage in any illegal activity, they would cover their tracks so well that the Soviet law enforcement would have a hard time bringing the case to trial. They couldn’t be arrested on false charges, because Stalin ran that particular well pretty much dry in the previous decades, and the Soviet government of the 1960′s through the 1980′s was, again, very careful to avoid any perception that they were once again falsely charging political opponents with crime and subsequently imprisoning them. Post-Stalin Soviet leaders were very vocal about their desire to move away from the wholesale political suppression of the 1930′s-1950′s, desiring to be seen as benevolent leaders rather than blood-soaked tyrants.

No, the solution that Brezhnev’s KGB found was as effective as it was elegant. Invent some psychiatric disorders with very vague symptoms, get some complaisant psychiatrists to admit those disorders into official books, making sure to include symptoms such as “inflexibility of beliefs”. Then take an “enemy of the state”, and get him diagnosed with “slowly progressing schizophrenia” or even “philosophical intoxication”, and presto – now you have the power to get him confined to a state psychiatric facility (with guard dogs and machinegunners walking the perimeter, of course), and pump him full of Haloperidol and other “fun” medications. The effect these drugs, especially in the industrial-sized doses they were delivered in, is vividly described by Soviet dissident Pyotr Starchik:

“The doctor would ask during rounds, ‘How do you feel, Pyotr Pyotrovich?’… I would say, ‘listen, when you put 5 cubes of haloperidol into me, then I’m drooling on the floor, all askew, some muscles are stretching, others contracting, absolutely horrible poses, the face is all horrible, and my soul is full of fear.’ The worst part is, it’s impossible to describe exactly how it feels.” [5]

Besides the “knockout” Haloperidol, Soviet psychiatrists had other methods at their disposal, of course. Thorazine (chlorpromazine) was also widely used, because it had a  long-lasting effect (half-life of 16 to 30 hours), and made patients completely docile (in the doses the Soviets used). Of course, nobody cared about the long-term effects, including permanent destruction of certain neural pathways, resulting in permanent symptoms like tardic dyskinesia (uncontrollable twitches & jerks). Actually, after the long-term effects of heavy-duty psychiatric drugs became apparent after a few years, Soviet shrinks reported – and the KGB gladly took note – that these long-term effects would add yet another layer of terror that would keep potential dissidents in line. Ending up in a psych hospital for a few years would be bad enough – what was far more terrifying is knowing that you would emerge a vegetable, unable to think, unable to form a sentence, unable to hold a job, a drooling idiot who would forever become a burden to your family.

At this point, Dear Reader, you may say to yourself, “No way! There’s just no possible way that a government could systematically, intentionally, turn people into drooling, twitching idiots, just for disagreeing with them!”… Well, if you don’t believe me, there’s plenty of resources out there that will substantiate what I’m telling you. And if you don’t believe this could happen in the US, well, we’re dealing with a government that has incarcerated over 110,000 people simply because they had the same ancestry as one of the enemies we were fighting [6]. We’re dealing with a government that has proven willing to send 400+ federal agents to the doorstep of a man whose crime consisted of being accused (note, not found guilty, but merely accused, on the testimony of an ATF informant – there’s an unprejudiced source…) of illegally shortening a pair of shotguns, and of failure to appear in court (because the court sent him a notice listing a wrong date). For this crime, Randy Weaver’s family paid the price – federal agents shot his teenage son in the back, and murdered his wife who was holding a 10-month-old baby [7].

We’re dealing with a government whose leader has openly called on his supporters to “punish our enemies”, and who demonstrated a cold-blooded disregard for human life by providing over 2000 units of assorted weapons to Mexican drug cartels, which resulted in the deaths of over 300 Mexican citizens as well as 2 US Border Patrol agents – Brian Terry and Jaime Zapata.

We have a government that looks at the utter failure of gun control in cities like Chicago (513 homicides in 2012! A new record!) and Baltimore (or as it’s locally known, “Bodymore, Murderland”), and continues the same failed tactics that lead to unimaginable suffering and death. After several decades of the same results, it’s beyond misgovernment or misapplication of theory, it’s willful destruction of the inner cities. But, of course, brown people matter only during elections. The rest of the time, our leaders are fully content in letting them kill each other.

We’re dealing with a political climate which openly demonizes half the country as dangerous lunatics, and a media climate whose members feel secure enough in their positions to openly call for torture and death of leaders of the political opposition [8].

Considering the above factors, it’s hardly a stretch that a government that’s willing to commit murder, would stoop to modifying some records in a database in order to deny the ownership of firearms to any of the “undesirables”. Or, take it one step further, diagnose a political opponent with a mental disorder, and welcome him or her to the nearest psych hospital with open arms. Of course, one of those arms will be holding a syringe, and the other, an ECT control switch.

I may be paranoid. But then again, there’s an old proverb – “The less you know, the better you sleep” (maybe that’s why I’m writing this at 4AM on a Friday night). Being cognizant of the history of USSR, China, Cuba, and the United States, I’m just ever-so-slightly worried that along with repeating every other page from the Communist playbook, the current administration and the overzealous control freaks who run blue states, will repeat this one. Will the state government of Massachusetts really destroy those waivers? Will the state of New York take every step to assure that this sensitive information will not be misused – especially considering that the NYPD in particular (not to single out that city, just an example) has been so corrupt that a major commission had to be called three times over the decades in order to sort it out? Will the federal government ignore a convenient weapon with which they can silence any opposition?

I may be paranoid. But I’m having a hard time explaining why the Governor of New York managed to pass a law that blatantly, unequivocally, violates Article 1, Section 9, of the US Constitution – and why he is allowed to get away with it! Article 1, Section 9 states, among other things, that “No Bill of Attainder or ex post facto law shall be passed.” This language is as clear as it can be. There are no restrictions, there is no (weakly) arguable preceding clause like “A well-regulated militia” (and anyone who argues that really needs to be hit over the head with a copy of the Federalist Papers), none of those possible angles of attack. It states, in extremely plain and serious terms, “NO. EX. POST. FACTO. LAWS.” And in case THAT wasn’t clear enough, here’s the 1798 case of Calder v Bull, in which Justice Chase opined:

“1st. Every law that makes an action done before the passing of the law, and which was innocent when done, criminal; and punishes such action. 2d. Every law that aggravates a crime, or makes it greater than it was, when committed. 3d. Every law that changes the punishment, and inflicts a greater punishment, than the law annexed to the crime, when committed. 4th. Every law that alters the legal rules of evidence, and receives less, or different, testimony, than the law required at the time of the commission of the offense, in order to convict the offender.” [9]

But, Mr. Cuomo is so eager to trample the rights of New Yorkers, that his monstrosity of a law openly and in a definite ex post facto manner, criminalizes the current possessions and behavior of the state’s citizens (perhaps I should say “subjects”). The King of Albany has spoken, full speed ahead and damn the Constitution.

Not only do the recently-passed laws violate dozens of legal and ethical doctrines, and do absolutely nothing to prevent future massacres (because, quite simply, criminals are criminals precisely because they do NOT follow laws), they also open the door to a multitude of violations of privacy and medical confidentiality. And worst of all, they take us one step closer to the Soviet reality of using psychiatry to “punish our enemies”.

Somewhere in Hell, Leonid Brezhnev is smiling.

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