To even begin this essay, I’m going to have to admit something uncomfortable. I am mentally ill.
I won’t bore you with the details, but I’m one of hundreds of thousands of Americans with a tough-to-treat, life-affecting neurosis known as Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD).
Since I happen to live near a leading psychiatric hospital, I’m one of the lucky ones. I got diagnosed as a young man. I visit my psychiatrist regularly and take a medication at the beginning of every day. Thanks to all of the above, I’m in the “functional” category. I have a family. I work for a living. I even own a home.
Much of the mental illness I live with is internal, involving repetitive actions and thoughts that are nearly impossible to control. But it’s something that is hard to hide. Do I exhibit symptoms? My wife would say Yes. And here’s a confession: Some of these involve episodes of anger.
If I polled my friends, most of whom have no idea I am ill, I would get different answers. Some might say I was more or less normal. Some would call me a “crank.” Some, maybe, worse. At least one of my neighbors, I’ll bet, thinks I have serious problems — especially after our verbal battles over some trees he cut down.
As it happens, I have no interest in owning a gun. But what if I did? What if I felt one were necessary to protect my property, my family or myself? Should the rest of society step in to stop me? In the current debate following the Parkland shooting, there are many — including President Trump, gun-ownership advocates and even moderates in Congress — who believe so.
But I have ask anyone who agrees: Just how would you go about this? By some edict from my doctor? Even if he were inclined to sign one, which I doubt, do you not realize that I could find another to refute him, one of many psychiatrists with broadly liberal views?
Stripping rights from the mentally ill is a slippery slope. Rarely are we sufferers restrained or locked up unless we’ve harmed ourselves or others. Want to label a few of us as “dangerous?” We’re just as hard to decipher and diagnose as anyone you know.
Those, like me, who suffer from mental illness come in myriad different degrees of severity and functionality. Experts, these days, talk not about patients with autism, but about patients on the “autism spectrum.” Is there an “Obsessive Compulsive spectrum,” too? A spectrum for every disorder? I’ve little evidence for this, but I’m guessing there might be.
But back to my gun. Few would know that I have possibly worrisome issues if I hadn’t outed myself by writing this. How many like me are out there? It’s impossible to know.
Perhaps you could sit down with my nervous neighbor, or make a case in court and get an injunction. Prevent me from buying a firearm — and impose other restrictions on my actions, too. But unless I’m wrong, I’d have my day in court — or months. My case, in truth, could take years.
And, when push comes to shove, is that not the way it should be? Does this not reflect the personal freedoms guaranteed in our Constitution and in the Bill of Rights — the same documents that Second Amendment advocates like to wave around?
Whatever your views on guns, or on people like me with mental illness, I urge you to be consistent. Rights are rights. Protections are protections.I’m hoping against hope that you agree.
Peter Mandel of Providence, Rhode Island, is an author of books for children, including “Jackhammer Sam” and “Bun, Onion, Burger.”