Gun Rights of the Mentally Ill: “Rights Belong to Individuals, Not Groups”

I imagine Ron Paul and his fans would have read this front page story in today’s New York Times with a very different reaction (not to mention, frame of reference) from mine:

Across the country, states are increasingly allowing people like Mr. French, who lost their firearm rights because of mental illness, to petition to have them restored.

A handful of states have had such restoration laws on their books for some time, but with little notice, more than 20 states have passed similar measures since 2008. This surge can be traced to a law passed by Congress after the 2007 massacre at Virginia Tech that was actually meant to make it harder for people with mental illness to get guns.

As a condition of its support for the measure, the National Rifle Association extracted a concession: the inclusion of a mechanism for restoring firearms rights to those who lost them for mental health reasons.

The intent of these state laws is to enable people to regain the right to buy and possess firearms if it is determined that they are not a threat to public safety. But an examination of restoration procedures across the country, along with dozens of cases, shows that the process for making that determination is governed in many places by vague standards and few specific requirements.

My reaction was probably typical of a New York Times reader (maybe even probably, as a Times skeptic might say, the reaction the paper intended): something in the neighborhoods of alarm, anxiety and disgust. Somewhere among my first thoughts (perhaps because I’ve been thinking a lot about Paul’s principles for a free society) was, should a person with a recent history of mental illness manifesting violent behavior to himself or others really have as much right to arm himself as the community he lives in to be safe from instantly gratifying weapons being in his hands?

As I mentioned in my last post, Paul says explicitly in his very first principle: “Rights belong to individuals, not groups; they derive from our nature and can neither be granted nor taken away by government.” Does Paul, then, believe that the community, being a group, has no rights, and would that be why even the potentially violent individual’s right to bear arms should trump the community’s supposed right (or need, if right is not the right term) for peace and safety? Or would he concede that individuals in a group may share a right, for example, to peace and safety from other members of the group? In other words, that it may be the right of a particular  individual–of several particular individuals together, or the vast majority of them in a given society–for safety from a heightened potential for violence that is in conflict here with the particular individual’s right to bear arms?

I wonder, too, whether Paul would consider a society free from fear of guns in the wrong hands less free than one in which all people are free to arm themselves, even if that freedom implies the risk that occasionally–maybe even more than occasionally–a gun will get into the wrong hands.

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