Letting the mentally ill have guns

This week, the U.S. Senate voted to overturn a federal rule, in place for a decade, that required the Social Security Administration to enroll the mentally ill clients they serve on a registry used by gun dealers for background checks.

Both Mississippi senators, Thad Cochran and Roger Wicker, voted to dump a policy they previously supported — acquiescing to the politically powerful gun industry.

The reversal, previously approved by the House, now goes to President Trump, who is expected to sign the measure.

How soon we forget.

When this rule was enacted, the nation was reeling from the Virginia Tech massacre, in which a mentally ill student shot up his campus, killing 32 persons before taking his own life. The rule wasn’t much, but at least it was something.

It said that if Social Security recipients had to have a representative handle their affairs because of mental illness, then they didn’t need to be equipped with firearms, with which they might hurt someone else or, more likely, themselves.

Some odd allies joined forces to oppose the rule — the American Civil Liberties Union, which claimed there was no data to support the restriction, and the gun-friendly Republican majorities in Congress.

We can’t speak to the data, but we can speak to the common sense of trying to keep firearms out of the hands of the mentally ill.

In virtually every case where there has been a mass shooting, it has been perpetrated by an individual with mental illness.

Totally apart from mass shootings, though, is the much more prevalent problem of gun suicides, which claim about 20,000 lives a year in the U.S. By keeping guns out of the hands of those most likely to kill themselves, it could just deter them long enough from going through with it.

Even if using the Social Security rolls to determine mental fitness to possess a firearm might not have been a perfect system, it was a reasonable safeguard that should have been left in place.

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