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    Armed and mentally ill

    Commentary: The real driver of random gun violence? It's not the weapon. And there are ways to address it.
    Mental health improvements could help with random violence.

    Mental health improvements could help with random violence. Kelsey Weaver/Flickr

    Is there common ground for supporters of gun rights and gun control to stop random, senseless shootings in this country? Perhaps.

    Hours after the awful shooting at Seattle Pacific University, Mayor Ed Murray appeared on campus and said, “Once again the epidemic of gun violence has come to Seattle — the epidemic of gun violence that is haunting this nation.” Other politicians, activists and liberal clergy echoed his words.

    It will surprise the mayor and many other people to learn that gun violence isn’t rising in America, it’s falling. In fact, it’s plummeting. Gun deaths are down nearly 40 percent in the last 20 years, despite an increase in population and a rise in gun ownership. The Bureau of Justice Statistics points out an even more dramatic number: Non-fatal gun crimes free-fell 69 percent during that same period.

    But mass shootings have increased. Depending on how you define them (attempted vs. actual), they have doubled or tripled in the last decade. Why are random shootings with multiple casualties up while overall “gun violence” is way down?

    Let’s broaden our focus.

    Last September Troy Wolff, a popular English professor at Shoreline Community College, was fatally stabbed in Pioneer Square while leaving a Seattle Sounders game. His girlfriend, Kristen Ito, was also stabbed multiple times and critically injured. The man police say is responsible for the crime, Donnell Jackson, didn’t know either victim. It was a random attack.

    Earlier in the year, two men were stabbed on a Metro bus, one critically, by someone they didn’t know. Prosecutors charged the man, Douglas Carter, with two counts of first degree assault. Another random attack.

    The previous year, Ian Stawicki shot and killed five people, including four at Café Racer, north of the University of Washington. He took his own life as officers closed in on him.

    In 2010, two men were brutally murdered in broad daylight with a hatchet by Michael LaRosa, who was charged with murder in the separate International District and Capitol Hill attacks.

    Each attack was unprovoked, inexplicable and brutal. Sometimes the weapon was a gun, sometimes a knife, sometimes a hatchet. To focus on the weapon misses the point: The thread tying these crimes together is the severe mental illness of the attacker.

    In the Seattle Pacific University shooting, accused gunman Aaron Ybarra had what The Seattle Times called “multiple encounters with the mental-health system.” He once called 911, saying he “was suicidal and had a rage inside him.” He insisted that the voice of Columbine killer Eric Harris was telling him to kill people. Twice there were attempts to have him committed.

    But mental health authorities concluded that Ybarra was “not detainable.”

    The alleged Pioneer Square stabber, Donnell Jackson, had been committed to a California mental hospital after being found incompetent to stand trial for trying to start a fire near a freeway onramp. At the time, the California judge said that he “requires treatment with anti-psychotic drugs” but that he was lacking in the capacity to take them as required. He ended up moving here.

    Douglas Carter, who attacked the two men he didn’t know on the Metro bus, had previously attacked a nurse with a chair at Western State Hospital, where he was being treated for mental illness. She was battered so badly that she suffered a seizure. He previously choked another nurse on the psychiatric ward. Carter had been convicted in 1991 of child rape.

    Café Racer shooter Ian Stawicki was a time bomb waiting to go off. According to his father, he struggled as a child before drifting through a series of low-level jobs as an adult. His offbeat behavior grew increasingly erratic, then dangerous. He physically attacked his girlfriend, then later his brother, but in both cases was charged with misdemeanor assault, so he kept his guns. Overcome with delusion, he began telling people he was on a CIA death squad. In retrospect his dad wishes he had tried to get him committed. Given Washington’s high bar for mental health confinement, it may not have mattered.

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    Posted Mon, Jun 30, 6:34 a.m. Inappropriate

    Mr. Carlson, are you willing to support the taxes necessary for the expansion of government-provided mental health services?

    Are you willing to support background checks for all gun buyers in private and commercial sales to make it more difficult for mentally ill people to obtain guns? Are you willing to support them for ammunition sales so that mentally ill people can't buy ammo for guns they obtain illegally?


    Posted Wed, Jul 2, 12:40 p.m. Inappropriate

    Ah, yes, it always comes down to the "progressive" obsession for any means of raising taxes. And "background checks?" Hell, the existing ones don't work because "progressives" won't support the collection of mental health records into a central database.

    See, none of you are actually interested in solving problems. You are interested in symbolism. It's the only thing that Seattle "progressives" care about. All politics in this area is symbolic. It's why problems fester and don't get solved. You "progressives" are ENTIRELY about the gesture. It's entirely about making yourselves feel good about yourselves.

    As long as "progressives" can be seen "caring" and tell themselves that they "care," they will be able to convince themselves that they are "good." The rest? Who cares?


    Posted Fri, Jul 4, 10:46 a.m. Inappropriate

    Talisker and all,

    The lack of funding argument may have been true in the past, but is not now. I say this having worked for a publicly funded mental health agency.

    Most people with severe mental illness, prior to the Affordable Care Act, were eligible for Medicaid. Their mental illness drove them out of the workforce and into Medicaid eligibility. They could go to NAVOS, Sound Mental Health, Valley Cities Counseling, CPC, or the many other non-profits in King County (and across the state)that do nothing but treat mental health with psychiatric drugs and counseling on an outpatient basis. Now that the ACA provides parity for treating mental health and because Medicaid subsidies were greatly expanded, virtually anyone can get mental health treatment on demand.

    The issues making it hard for people to manage their illness are multiple. The very nature of the disease makes those that are afflicted think they are not sick. Even if they accept that they are, the drugs involved have side-effects that are unpleasant and once you are on the drugs the symptoms go away, so sufferer stops taking them. The very point a sufferer should be seeking treatment is the point where their mental processes for evaluating themselves and making that decision are most compromised. Lastly some diseases, such as manic-depression create states of mania that stimulate creativity and a heightened sense of well-being. Treating the disease kills the muse, if you will, that many with the disease have come to rely on for their art and creativity.

    So funding is not the problem. It may have been once. It is getting those that suffer to use it.

    One pole of the debate, where Washington State is, comes down very hard on the side of civil liberty. Let only that want to be voluntarily treated be treated, until and unless they are having a psychotic break where they don't know they are a threat to others or themselves. The other pole of the debate, is to treat anyone with mental illness, because we "know" that is what is best for them. This latter position has been abused in the past. The difficulty is striking the right balance in between.

    Posted Mon, Jun 30, 10:04 a.m. Inappropriate

    As a property owner I have no problem supporting additional taxes for mental heath as it is the most prevalent costly problem in the world. I also have no problem with more taxes for incaceration of criminals. However more taxes should not be add-ons and budget shifting that just inrease taxes with no extra benefit.

    I dont support registration schemes and additional background requirements at the state level. The costs of those programs have no benefit other than feel good. Take the money wasted on those programs and put it toward mental health and incarceration.


    Posted Mon, Jun 30, 11:32 a.m. Inappropriate

    If a mentally ill person has firearms or access to firearms, their family and caregivers have a responsibility to separate that person from the guns. If at all possible, take the guns away for safekeeping. Take the initiative; don't wait for a court order because by then it might be too late.

    Posted Wed, Jul 2, 12:46 p.m. Inappropriate

    That's much easier said than done.


    Posted Thu, Jul 3, 1:15 a.m. Inappropriate

    In some cases perhaps, but the effort needs to be made. Don't let the situation escalate to the point where later you are filled with regret -- "If only I had acted… If only I had snuck those firearms out of the house…"

    Posted Thu, Jul 3, 4:56 p.m. Inappropriate

    Again, why "guns?" What about knives, hatchets, automobiles, bomb-making materials, and so forth. If a person is too mentally ill to be trusted with firearms, it isn't the firearms that need to be locked up.

    And yes, I've been through this. I "borrowed" my father-in-law's gun when it was necessary. But we also took away his pickup and placed him in a locked Alzheimer's ward, where he was safe.

    The problem with the anti-gun approaches is that it ONLY takes away guns, leaving the mentally ill person still in danger, and many times still a danger to others. But they're okay with that, because in their world only "gun deaths" count.

    Posted Fri, Jul 4, 9:52 a.m. Inappropriate

    I did not say that guns are the only things to which the mentally ill should be denied access. But among the hierarchy of such denials, firearms rank right at the top due to the magnitude of their lethality. I had a mentally ill friend who committed suicide with a handgun, and the only way her family and friends avoided feelings of guilt was that nobody knew she had a gun.

    Posted Mon, Jun 30, 11:38 a.m. Inappropriate

    I hate to point this out, but it looks like Arizona's lower bar for involuntary commital didn't prevent the Gabby Giffords shooting in Tucson. I understand that, given the apparant contradiction, Arizon's lower standard for involuntary commital may well have prevented many other potential mass shootings than Washington's higher standard would have, but of course, we have no way of knowing outside of statistical analysis. The existence of a reputable study on the topic would go a long way toward making the author's point, otherwise we are being asked to support a big policy change based on conjecture.

    Also, it would be short-sighted not to consider how many more people would get locked up or chemically restrained in order to protect society from something they _might_ do with a lower standard for involuntary commital in place. In my view, these too would be lives lost to mass shootings.

    I don't know if Americans will ever come to agreement on how to respond to mass shootings, but as long as we're guessing at causes and remedies, I'll offer mine. My sense is that over the last 40 years life in America has become meaner, more impersonal, and subject to unprecedented economic pressures, and all of that combines to crack those who feel like they're out of options, some of which end up doing the unthinkable. Until public policy is used to reverse some of the more egregious pressures we all face, we're probably just pissing in the wind.


    Posted Fri, Jul 4, 11:15 a.m. Inappropriate

    According to some criminologists, interviewed on KUOW in the wake of several of these horrors, mass killings have been with us since before the FBI started keeping records to document them in the 1930's.

    They point out a pathology of the mass killer (Senator Feinstein calls them "Grievance Killers") that will make it nearly impossible for a mental health intervention to work. They are highly intelligent, they are highly determined, they are organized planners, they are secretive about their planning,they usually acquire the means (it isn't just guns) of their killing lawfully, and when confronted about the irrationality of their grievances, make it about other people and can't see their irrationality.

    Nor is the means of mass murder particularly relevant. The average number of deaths per mass killing is highest when the killer puts gasoline in a glass bottle, stuffs a rag in it, and lights it and throws it into a building full of the people he is out to get. They kill nearly 50 at a time, Mass killers that use firearms to kill about 5.4 people per incident and knives to kill about 4.8 or so. (Yes the FBI tracks this stuff).

    The combination of pathology make the mental health system and restrictions on access to knives, or gas, or guns not helpful. They are essentially unstoppable.

    So what we ought to do is not focus on the outliers of the mental illness world and which mentally ill people should be put on some sort of "do not sell to list" (for gasoline, nitrogen fertilizer, guns, knives, where does it stop?) but think about who our mental health system can help and improve treatment options for them.

    Lastly, as a group, the mentally ill are less homicidal and violent than the rest of us and mental health professionals lack screening methods to predict which one's among this peaceful population, relative to the rest of us, will actually snap.

    Posted Mon, Jun 30, 2:39 p.m. Inappropriate

    Excellent article. Since the 1980s, American society has been trying to demonstrate its "compassion" for the mentally ill by raising the bar for involuntary commitment to the point that, as Mr. Carlson shows, they can't be committed until someone dies. Popular culture likes to portray the involuntarily committed as harmless eccentrics, as in "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest." We are supposed to think of poor Kris Kingle in "Miracle on 34th Street" pouting in his bathrobe in Bellevue Hospital thanks to the machinations of a neurotic pseudo-psychologist.

    But these people are truly menaces to themselves and to society. The political elites are going to have as much luck solving this problem by increasing regulations on guns as they would have solving the problem of drunk driving by increasing regulations on cars.


    Posted Mon, Jun 30, 3:17 p.m. Inappropriate

    Involuntary commitment is no longer an automatic response to people with serious mental illness not because of "compassion," but because of concerns about legal rights and effective treatment (involuntary commitment often worsens mental health instead of improving it). Then there was the push to cut taxes. The thrifty closing of mental hospitals under President Reagan was supposed to be followed by the opening of community clinics, but they were never built.

    As swendr commented above, life in America is mean and lonely for mentally ill people. If they become menaces, it's because we're helping them along that road.

    Posted Mon, Jun 30, 4:50 p.m. Inappropriate

    I am disappointed to see you repeat this often debunked legend. Both Governor Pat Brown and Governor Reagan closed some mental institutions in California during the late 1960s and early 1970s (Reagan was Governor until 1972). The move to close some institutions was driven by lawsuits alleging illegal and unfair incarceration of people who were no threat to others or to themselves. It was very hard to prove just who was and was not a threat. As President, Reagan had no responsibility nor power to close mental institutions.

    See the following:



    Posted Tue, Jul 1, 9:52 a.m. Inappropriate

    Kieth, my comment above acknowledges that lawsuits to protect individual rights were part of the pressure that changed the warehousing of people with mental illnesses. You and I have had the remainder of the conversation before:

    Gov Reagan's radical reduction of public care for mental care is referenced on page 1 of the NYT article you cite. He "dismantled the public psychiatric hospital system, advocating instead a community-based housing and treatment system to supplant it. [But] not enough state funding was devoted to the change." (http://www.u-s-history.com/pages/h1958.html).

    When Reagan became President, he rescinded the Mental Health Systems Act of 1980, originally signed by Jimmy Carter. This law "was considered a landmark in mental health care policy. The key to the proposals included an increase in funding for Community Mental Health Centers and continued federal government support for such programs. But this ran counter to the financial goals of the Reagan administration; these were of course to reduce federal spending, reduce social programs, and transfer responsibility of many if not most government functions to the individual states. So, the law signed by President Carter was rescinded by Ronald Reagan on August 13, 1981. In accordance with the New Federalism and the demands of capital, mental health policy was now in the hands of individual states....

    “Cuts in funding for mental health services continued throughout the 1980s, with the emphasis being on the provision of services via the private sector. Overall, the number of beds available to the mentally ill in public and private hospitals dropped over forty percent between 1970 and 1984 (Reamer, 1989). Most of this decline was due to cuts in public hospitals. During the 1980s, the number of beds provided by general hospitals in psychiatric wards and in private hospitals for the mentally ill increased. In 1970, there were 150 private psychiatric centers; in 1980, there were 184; by 1988, there were 450 in the United States. General hospitals offering psychiatric services increased from 1,259 in 1984 to over two thousand in 1988 (Reamer, 1989, 25; LaFond and Durham, 1992, 115-16). With such growth in the private sector, there were substantial profits to be made in mental illness, assuming that the patient had adequate health insurance. Those without medical insurance frequently did not receive adequate care…"

    The latter two paragraphs are from a paper by Northeastern University professor Alexandar R. Thomas (Electronic Journal of Sociology, 1998), "Ronald Reagan and the Commitment of the Mentally Ill: Capital, Interest Groups, and the Eclipse of Social Policy." The paper also explains the central role the ACLU and other civil liberties advocates played in deinstitutionalization and is well worth reading in its entirety. http://www.sociology.org/content/vol003.004/thomas.html

    Posted Tue, Jul 1, 11:41 a.m. Inappropriate

    Judy, the Mental Health Systems Act did nothing..absolutely nothing.. to incarcerate those who may have been a threat to society. it presumed to improve "community mental health programs" It was replaced by a block grant program that (I think appropriately) returned control of mental health care to the states. For over thirty years now no administration, Republican or Democrat has pushed legislation or, more importantly, has proposed to finance a rprogram to replace MHSA. Your comment included the claim that Reagan "closed mental hospitals", this is correct only to the extent that he did so as a Governor and you failed to note that his immediate predecessor had done so as well.


    Posted Tue, Jul 1, 2:11 p.m. Inappropriate

    "Involuntary commitment is no longer an automatic response to people with serious mental illness not because of 'compassion,' but because of concerns about legal rights and effective treatment (involuntary commitment often worsens mental health instead of improving it)."

    I'm sorry, but that sentence just doesn't make sense. In what way is a concern for legal rights and effective treatment not synonymous with compassion? My point is that such compassion is misplaced because it places the concerns for the violently insane above the concerns for the innocent people who's lives they take. If you think life is mean and lonely for the mentally ill, imagine what it must be like for their victims. I'm not denying that the mentally ill have rights, but if they are unable to function in society, society's first obligation is to isolate them from those they may harm. To do otherwise is misplaced compassion.

    I would also like to point out that Ronald Reagan has not held public office since 1989. The time has long since passed when he can be blamed for society's ills. Instead, why not release the millions of people serving prison terms for victimless drug crimes (the true victims of Reagan's misguided "War on Drugs") and use the money saved to institutionalize those who are truly dangerous? Is there compassion for those in prison who have harmed no one?


    Posted Mon, Jun 30, 3:41 p.m. Inappropriate

    This is a persistent myth about Washington's involuntary commitment laws: "Here in Washington, someone has to be in 'imminent' danger of hurting themselves or someone else, a bar set so high that it makes the chances of commitment extremely remote."

    Actually, imminency is not required. See RCW 71.05.150. DMHPs in King County detain over 100 patients a month using the nonemergency detention standard, which allows for detention with judicial preauthorization (a requirement imposed on constitutional grounds by the Washington Supreme Court) when imminency is not present.


    Posted Wed, Jul 2, 12:54 p.m. Inappropriate

    I tried to get someone committed 10 years ago. The circumstances were complex and are too boring to explain here. This person was a danger to himself and to others, but I was told that he didn't meet the legal standards. You need to understand that there are the rules; there are the people who interpret them and live with them; there are those who are affected.

    In the end, it comes down to people and to a system in which there aren't enough people or enough time, and in which a form of "triage" is done. My friend is dead. Fortunately, he didn't take anyone with him. Here in "progressive" Seattle, the system is best at handing out a list of phone numbers to call. That's what most people in the social services system here exist to do.

    God help anyone who ever has to deal with this city's "progressives" in this realm.


    Posted Mon, Jun 30, 4:03 p.m. Inappropriate

    If the comment made by 'krblack' is true, Crosscut should make a correction to this article to uphold its commitment to its readers as a quality source of online journalism.

    From the article:
    "He was told that Joel would need to have a loaded gun in his hand with his finger on the trigger. By the time he met that standard he was well on his way to dying."

    If this is not true, a correction should be made. This article makes some good points about gun deaths and the true source of the problem. But the points about taking away someone's freedom through involuntary commitment is a serious topic and it should be portrayed accurately.

    Posted Mon, Jun 30, 4:58 p.m. Inappropriate

    "Doug Reuter, asked what it would take to get his son committed for treatment. He was told that Joel would need to have a loaded gun in his hand with his finger on the trigger."

    What is it about that sentence that you think requires a correction?


    Posted Fri, Jul 4, 11:02 p.m. Inappropriate

    Kieth. That sentence by Mr. Carlson states that a person would have to have a gun to their head before they could be involuntarily committed. krblack and Mr Jones both indicate that imminent danger is NOT required. The sentence is very dramatic in that it implies that a person must basically be pointing a gun to their head and threatening suicide in order to be involuntarily committed.

    But this statement seems to be false. That's the correction I'm referring to. The article should be corrected rather than having the corrections appear in the comments section for only some people to read.

    Posted Mon, Jun 30, 10:15 p.m. Inappropriate

    Six quickies:

    (1)-Mr. Carlson, a conservative, is correct about the steep decline in firearms deaths, also about the increase in mass murders committed with all sorts of weapons and the resultant need to protect society by institutionalizing people who are dangerously mentally ill.

    (2)- Ms. Lightfoot, a liberal and probably a progressive, is correct the reasons such people are not institutionalized is a combination of humanitarian concern and the consequences of governmental austerity. (Ms. Lightfoot omits that mentally ill people were in fact austerity's original victims.)

    (3)-Swendar is correct life in the U.S. is increasingly brutal, particularly for people who are old, disabled and/or chronically poor. (Swendar omits that the brutality is deliberately inflicted, the intentional and often deadly result of austerity.)

    (4)-These three factors (commitment loopholes, humanitarian concerns, austerity) combine to foster the present-day plague of mass murders – atrocities by angrily deranged people who, denied guns, kill with knives, axes, swords, hammers, sticks, stones, even the water in bathtubs.

    (5)-As Mr. Carlson suggests, our common recognition of these factors could (and should) coalesce into a unified, beyond-partisan campaign to get mass murderers off the streets – particularly if...

    (6)-It's recognized from the beginning the hysterical demonization of guns and gun owners is not about preventing mass murder – that it's part of a much broader effort by the One Percent and its coterie of Demo/Repub austerity facilitators to reduce the 99 Percent to maximum powerlessness.

    Posted Mon, Jun 30, 11:41 p.m. Inappropriate

    Huh? I don't get your (6). The only gun owners I demonize are the ones who don't secure their firearms in gun safes so they can't fall into the hands of the mentally ill. People like Mrs. Lanza, who sadly became the first victim of her folly -- leaving her firearms lying around where her demented son Adam could get them. (And no, Adam would not have committed the same mayhem with kitchen knives if he were denied those firearms)

    Posted Fri, Jul 4, 5:10 p.m. Inappropriate

    My point is the demonization of firearms owners (and all Second Amendment supporters in general), is the perfect wedge issue by which the One Percent repeatedly destroys any Left/Center/Right solidarity that could result in effective programs to minimize mass murder. Removing the firearms issue from the controversy -- that is, recognizing the real purpose of the gun issue is public disempowerment -- would facilitate the very consensus that now seems unobtainable. But the One Percent will never allow that to happen. They oppose an anti-mass-murder consensus because it would mandate expansion of government services which in turn would raise the One Percent's tax bills.

    Posted Tue, Jul 1, 11:47 a.m. Inappropriate

    I agree with Roger. Moreover, it is ludicrous to think the 1% need to remove small arms from "the people" in order to stay in physical control. Modern military weaponry will win every time. It's not the 1790s any more (and even then, the militias send by President Washington caused the armed Whiskey Rebels to disband).


    Posted Fri, Jul 4, 5 p.m. Inappropriate

    The spurious claim that "modern military weapons will win (over civilian small arms) every time" is refuted both by history -- think Cuba, Vietnam, Nicaragua, Iraq etc. -- and by the contents of every military counter-insurgency manual ever written.

    In a setting of revolution or armed resistance, the use of "civilian" small arms is precisely how partisans or revolutionaries obtain military weapons.

    Why do you suppose tyrants and/or conquerors universally mandate the total disarmament of civilian populations? (This was true even in Roman times.)

    Note too the federal efforts (conducted mostly by Blackwater, a U.S. equivalent of the Nazi S.S.), to forcibly disarm the civilian population of New Orleans after Katrina.

    Lastly, note the lavish One Percent funding -- Bloomberg, Gates, Soros et al -- that increasingly underwrites forcible disarmament campaigns.

    If successful -- and the increasingly vast sums of money behind forcible disarmament indicate it eventually will be -- the U.S. civilian population will then be fully subjugated, with mandatory pacifism and compulsory victimhood its zero-tolerance lot.

    Posted Tue, Jul 1, 5:29 p.m. Inappropriate

    OK, so loren didn't phrase the real line-in-the-sand quite right, he sure does a good job in points 1-5 laying out the endless pitfalls of "we are all neo-liberals now," not that the phrase that is borrowed from is any better. Time to get on with the future.


    Posted Wed, Jul 2, 9:39 a.m. Inappropriate

    Thanks for laying it out lorenbliss, but I don't think the One Percent talk much about gun control when they get together at the hall of doom for their G-8 meetings. They're all about the austerity, and while I agree austerity - or better yet, the neoliberal consensus - is the problem, it's hyperbolic and distracting to suggest gun control is a part of that consensus.

    It's important to remember that most people that support gun control really care. They just want the random violence to stop. The author of the article wants the same thing, but he'd rather lock more people up. Both sides address important issues, but they ignore the big picture. Simple in a way, but that's what comes out when the public has a sense of urgency in the aftermath of tragedy. The underlying causes are too complex and difficult to address in the language of our good guy/bad guy political dialogue.


    Posted Fri, Jul 4, 5:25 p.m. Inappropriate

    Your characterization of "most people that (sic) support gun control" as individuals who "really care" is, in my experience, disingenuous at best. The forcible-disarmament advocates I have met -- precisely the people who drove me out of the Democratic Party during the 1980s -- are mostly spit-in-your-face fanatics. Especially as someone who went to jail for the cause of civil rights (Tennessee, 1963), I don't appreciate being called a "Nazi," a "racist pig" and a "wanna-be murderer" merely because I believe we humans should retain the right to self-defense. And as I have discovered more times than I can count, forcible-disarmament advocates invariably resort to such name-calling when one persists in disagreeing with them. Thus, as I said above, the necessity of transcending the firearms issue if we are to rationally seek an antidote to the plague of mass murder.

    Posted Tue, Jul 1, 10:11 p.m. Inappropriate

    krblack above is correct. RCW 71.05 does not require imminent danger. There is a provision for non-emergency detention. A judge signs an order requiring the individual to appear for an evaluation based upon a county mental health professional having probable cause to believe that the individual presents a likelihood of serious harm to self, others or the property of others. Threats are sufficient, there need not be actual harm. Every time something bad happens with the mentally ill, the statute is blamed when blame usually lies elsewhere.

    The legislature has amended 71.05 several times to make it easier to detain and hold the mentally ill. The problem is not with the statute. Police are poorly trained in how to deal with the mentally ill and often give bad advice or refuse to take the time to notify the CDMHPs. Family will cover for the seriously mentally ill either because they don't want to confront the problem or because the psychotic behavior has become normalized in their minds (it's just Bob, he gets that way sometimes). If you lack insurance you are unlikely to get immediate attention in a crisis or be able to get medication refilled promptly.

    The Seattle Times did a highly misleading piece claiming that too many people are released on "technical" violations of the statute. Yes, it happens and the frequency may be increasing. But it mostly happens because more and more people are being detained at hospitals that don't have psychiatric units and don't know how to comply with the law (or, in some cases, don't want to learn to do so). There is a chronic shortage of psychiatric beds due to our wise legislature's budget cuts. Hospitals sometimes discharge patients who are seriously psychotic once their insurance runs out. Patients are discharged to the street without follow up treatment.


    Posted Wed, Jul 2, 10:27 a.m. Inappropriate

    Some real good feedback here from an array of readers. One important clarification, however. When I talk about committing or detaining the seriously mentally ill, I'm not talking about a couple of days. I'm talking about 14 days on. That's why I shared the story about Jake Stanton, the 19 year old WWU student, who was detained for short periods of time during multiple visits to the ER, but was not deemed detainable under state law for longer commitment. Same with Joel Reuter.

    Where all of us should agree is that Washington's standard is higher than many other states where both young men, along with the accused SPU shooter, Aaron Ybarra, would have been committed and received treatment. Keep in mind that both Jake and Joel's parents WANTED them committed - they weren't in denial, they were actively, desperately trying to get the state to act, but it never happened because neither man was deemed ill enough to meet the state standard. That is also why both young men are dead.

    Posted Thu, Jul 3, 3:20 p.m. Inappropriate

    On the contrary, civil commitment standards across the states are fairly uniform, which is not surprising, because the boundaries are established by court decisions in the U.S. Supereme Court and certain influential lower federal court decisions. There are small variations and outliers. One interesting question is how similar standards are applied differently in different parts of the country, and in different parts of this state. Also, how does the availability (or shortage) of involuntary treatment beds in a local area affect how the commitment laws are applied? My belief is that the local culture combined with availability of treatment beds has a greater impact on commitment practices than meager variations in statutory commitment language.

    This will be tested to some extent based on SB 5480 (2013), which caused a broader civil commitment standard to go into effect in this state starting Tuesday (July 1). When the Legislature passed this bill, they also committed $28 million in increased state dolllars to support commitment beds and diversion and prevention programs.


    Posted Wed, Jul 2, 11:20 a.m. Inappropriate

    As the saying goes, "bad cases make bad law." Violence is very difficult to predict whether with the mentally ill or not. Lowering the bar for detention will catch some individuals who might go on to commit violent acts but it will also result in detaining large numbers of other individuals who never would have escalated to violence. Right now the system is incapable of handling those it does detain. Any movement toward increasing detentions will have to be accompanied with large increases in system resources. If not, the result will be more people being detained in hospital hallways and ER exam rooms. The state supreme court will soon be heard on the "boarding" issue and that may force legislative action.


    Posted Sat, Jul 5, 12:14 a.m. Inappropriate

    "This is about more than money. It’s about the standard required for committing someone who is seriously mentally ill, often at the urging of desperate family members."

    In other words, let's make it easier to commit the seriously mentally ill, but let's not spend any of the taxpayers' money providing them with beds and treatment, unless we can squeeze it from other vital services, such as education, for instance.

    What a pile of crock.

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