On Jan. 5 President Obama announced executive actions to prevent “mentally ill” people from buying guns.
The move doesn’t expand the category of people who can’t buy guns, because, as the White House fact sheet points out, “Current law prohibits individuals from buying a gun if, because of a mental health issue, they are either a danger to themselves or others or are unable to manage their own affairs.” Obama’s action “enables health care providers to report the names of mentally ill patients to an FBI firearms background check system.”
What interests me in this – as someone who, though he is grateful for the Second Amendment, doesn’t own a gun and has never been a gun-rights advocate – is just how broadly “mental health issue” might be defined. Craig Bannister wondered in a humorous article, “Are Climate Skeptics Too ‘Mentally Ill’ to Buy Guns under Obama’s New Rules?”
Maybe it’s not such a laughing matter.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control, which presumably offers the official government definition, says:
Mental illnesses refer to disorders generally characterized by dysregulation of mood, thought, and/or behavior, as recognized by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, 4th edition, of the American Psychiatric Association (DSM-IV). Mood disorders are among the most pervasive of all mental disorders and include major depression, in which the individual commonly reports feeling, for a time period of two weeks or more, sad or blue, uninterested in things previously of interest, psychomotor retardation or agitation, and increased or decreased appetite since the depressive episode ensued.
You could drive a truck through that definition, and “mental health issue” is even more broad and vague. No wonder “Recent epidemiological studies based upon [Diagnostic and Statistical Manual] criteria have suggested that half or more of the U.S. population will meet the threshold for mental disorder at some point in their lives.”
Midway through last year, EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy distinguished “climate deniers” from “normal people.” So I guess “climate denial” counts as some kind of mental (it’s sure not physical) abnormality, i.e., some form of mental illness. That’s what her words imply, at least.
So, would this executive order allow or even require my physician, who happens to know my views on global warming, to report me on that ground to the FBI to be put on its “firearms background check system” so I couldn’t buy a gun? Naaaaaah. That’s absurd.
Or maybe not.
For the record, I’m not a “climate denier,” and I don’t know anyone who is. I can’t imagine what it would be to deny climate.
Heck, I don’t even deny human-induced climate change. I just think it’s considerably less significant than what former Vice President Al Gore, current President Barack Obama and Administrator McCarthy think – real, but small and, on balance, probably more beneficial than harmful. And empirical data increasingly support my view, what with there having been no statistically significant global warming for the 18 years and 10 months from February 1997 through November 2015, and the total warming through the satellite record (1979 to now) being under 0.2 degree Celsius per decade, which is two-thirds the IPCC’s midrange estimate (and a whole lot lower than Gore has predicted).
But in McCarthy’s book, and Obama’s, that makes me a “climate denier,” hence not on their list of “normal people,” hence “abnormal,” i.e., mentally ill. (Again, if they don’t like the inference, let them say what other kind of “abnormal” they have in mind.)
McCarthy isn’t alone in that thinking. As long ago as 2009 a conference of “eco-psychologists” at the University of the West of England in Bristol, led by University of Oregon professor Kari Norgaard, discussed whether “climate change denial” should be deemed a “mental disorder.” There Norgaard, a professor of sociology and environmental studies, as reported in The Register, told participants that “Skepticism regarding the need for immediate and massive action against carbon emissions is a sickness of societies and individuals which needs to be ‘treated.’ …”
In 2012 Norgaard and other academics gathered again in London, where she discussed her book “Living in Denial: Climate Change, Emotions and Everyday Life” (2011, MIT Press). “This kind of cultural resistance to very significant social threat is something that we would expect in any society facing a massive threat,” she said.
In 2013 Nature Climate Change published an article that depicted “high-carbon lifestyles, which depend on profligate use of energy and material resources” like “central heating [and] air conditioning,” “our reluctance to wean ourselves off international air travel – whether for business or pleasure – and the amount of meat that we consume in our diets,” and the “petrol engine” as an “addiction,” which is a type of mental disorder if anything is.
In 2014 Psychology Today published an article by Margaret Klein, described in her author bio as “a therapist turned advocate,” founder of The Climate Mobilization, a psychologically based social movement strategy and political platform, and the author of “The Climate Psychologist.” In “Are You in Climate Change Denial? Three Signs to Look For,” Klein wrote, “It is easy to scoff at climate change ‘deniers’ – people who refuse to believe the scientific consensus that fossil fuel emissions are causing global warming and its catastrophic consequences, including intensified drought, flooding and severe weather.”
Now hold on right there, Ms. Klein. Whatever scientific consensus there might be that global average temperature has risen (by about 0.8 C) since about 1850 and that human activity has contributed significantly to that warming, no study has documented consensus that the warming has, or probably will have, “catastrophic consequences,” and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says there’s no evidence linking anthropogenic global warming to rising frequency or intensity of severe weather events. (Yes, Ms. Klein, that is in direct contradiction to your claim that “Climate change is already causing severe weather, droughts, floods, food shortages, the spread of tropical diseases and invasive species, and mass migrations of people.”) Besides, consensus is a political value, not a scientific one. Want know who won an election? Count votes. Want to know how much an added increment of CO2 will warm the atmosphere? Do the empirical research and study the data.
But set that aside for now. Klein goes on: “We might feel smug knowing we respect science, unlike those ridiculous deniers. Not so fast. Is it possible to acknowledge that climate change is real while still being in denial about the gravity of the situation? Check out this list. You may recognize yourself.”
So you might be “in denial” not only if you question just how much our additions of CO2 to the atmosphere might warm the planet but also – even if you don’t question that – if you question whether the results will be “catastrophic.” And what are the three telltale signs? “1) You think climate change is bad, but not that bad. … 2) You don’t have an emotional reaction to climate change. … 3) You aren’t getting political. …”
Klein says, “When I am trying to help people get in touch with their emotions about climate change, I remind them that ‘Climate change is unfolding in your life.’ Climate change is happening to you, to me, and everyone we know. You are intimately involved in it. You should know it in your gut and in your heart – not just in your head.”
Frankly, when I read her article, I’m tempted to think she’s more in need of psychological intervention than those who, like the hundreds of scientists who have signed “An Open Letter on Climate Change to the People [and their Elected Representatives] of the United States,” think climate change is real but not catastrophic and certainly not more dangerous to humanity than, say, the poverty in which billions will be trapped if we accept the climate alarmists’ prescriptions for severely restrained economic growth to prevent a few tenths of a degree of increase in global average temperature.
Perhaps that’s why Telegraph reporter Lewis Page ended his column about the London gathering by writing, wryly, “At least some climate physicists and such might reasonably consider this to be just the sort of help they really don’t need in convincing ordinary folk that their recommendations ought to be taken seriously.”
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