The school shooting in Georgia on Tuesday has reignited the already fiery debate over gun control laws.
Michael Brandon Hill walked into the Ronald E. McNair Discovery Learning Academy with an AK-47 assault type rifle and at least one other weapon. Police soon responded to the scene and Hill shot several rounds at police officers before surrendering. No one was killed or injured.
In an interview with NBC News on Wednesday, the shooter’s brother, Timothy Hill stated that the younger Hill suffers from ADD and bipolar disorder; he began having problems in early adolescence. He added that his brother had been arrested for threatening to kill him not too long after the school shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary school last December and was sentenced to three years probation.
While a discussion over gun control is inevitable, there may be another issue we should be revisiting as well — and that’s how mental illness is handled in such situations. It is virtually impossible to have someone committed to a psychiatric facility against their will unless it can be proven that the person in question is a danger to himself or to others. A relative can request help in assessing whether or not a loved on is such a danger to his own person or to society in general; a 72 hour, in house assessment will then be performed.
During this 72 hour period, mental health professionals will try to determine if the patient can be released, or if he should continue in their care. Even if they suggest further in-house treatment, the patient has a right to protest that decision through his or her attorney.
From the standpoint of individual rights, this makes sense — no one can force another adult into a mental facility through random accusations, and this is a good thing. However, it might be that the answer lies in how being a danger to themselves or others is currently defined.
A large percentage of people who are homeless in the United States are mentally ill, according to Sandra Tester, a licensed therapist in Northwest Arkansas. “The difficulty in having someone hospitalized for mental illness with the criteria that’s in place at this point greatly contributes to homelessness in this country,” she states. Even if a mentally ill person cannot adequately take care of themselves, if they are not actually harming themselves or threatening other people, there’s nothing that can be done.
But it certainly seems that Michael Brandon Hill met this criteria back in December; his brother obviously felt his own personal safety was threatened. Why his younger brother was given probation and ordered to take anger management classes instead of receiving in house treatment hasn’t been addressed at this point.
Maybe it should be.