This brings us to the measure concerning mental health: the president would like to see federal mental health records submitted to the background check system. On first glance it makes good sense to consider one’s state of mind when handing them a firearm. If a friend has deposited weapons with you when in his right mind but asks them back after going insane, you might consider other matters, such as your debts, of secondary importance. At any rate, that’s what Socrates argued in the Republic, and Obama follows him: the unhinged should be unarmed. Given that mental health professionals are already mandatory reporters to other official entities such as Child Protective Services, this one addition seems innocuous enough.
A possible wrinkle in this proposal is that the prospect of losing access to guns might dissuade gun lovers from seeking help when they hit turbulence in their personal lives. But the larger concern here centers around the right to privacy. Recall that the right to privacy is what prevailed in the Roe v Wade decision: doctor-patient confidentiality trumps whatever rights the unborn might have to continue as they were unharmed. But in Obama’s proposal an opposite principle emerges: the very possibility of violence trumps doctor-patient confidentiality. Nor is this the first time this administration has called the inviolability of privacy into question: the president’s proposal to collect health care records already subordinated privacy to the call for shovel-ready jobs.
So which is it? Where exactly does our privacy rank next to public safety and the common good? Do we arm the next Adam Lanza, the next James Eagan Holmes, or do we admit that Justice Blackmun built his majority opinion on sand?