With both the left and right calling for supposed “Red Flag Laws”, we have to take a step back and look at what the State is trying to accomplish here. Lindsey Graham said that “The Second Amendment is not a suicide pact.” The politicians say they are concerned with dangerous people having “easy” access to guns. That sounds good on the surface, but if you study history, you will find that psychology has been used in the past by authoritarians as a cudgeol.
Politicians are no stranger to abusing psychiatry for their own ends. In the Soviet Union, it was regularly used to keep dissidents and political rivals locked up by claiming they were psychopaths or had schizophrenia. After years of denial, the Soviet psychiatrists would not let international bodies in to visit the hospitals, or to interview patients. That all changed at the height of perestroika. In 1989, an American delegation of psychiatrists were granted permission and visited Soviet mental hospitals. They found that the “patients” did not exhibit any symptoms of mental illness at all, and some were never seen by a psychiatrist. They were simply locked away and used mental illness as a blank permission slip.
In Nazi Germany, psychiatry was used to assess “duty to care” on an enormous scale. 300,000 individuals were sterilized, and 77,000 were executed in Germany alone, with thousands more afield. Psychiatrists were also used in the camps for a central role in sterilization and euthanasia. In 1990, Germany again dipped its toe in using psychiatry against undesirables. People who do not practice contraception for religious reasons were targeted for “morbid desire for children”.
In Canada, misusing psychiatry turned out to be profitable. Thousands of orphans were sent to Catholic orphanages during the 1940’s, 50’s, and 60’s. Their parents, who were often poor, were lied to and told the children would receive the best of care and a good education. These children, now called “The Duplessis Orphans,” were falsely diagnosed as mentally retarded or having various mental illnesses. The church received government subsidies while the children were in their care. Many of these children were sent to hospitals and endured abuse at the hands of the staff. In the 1990’s, the Duplessis Orphans banded together in order to seek justice for their abuse.
I’ve talked to many friends and neighbors about this very subject. Some of them reply, “Oh, that kind of thing can’t/wouldn’t happen here!” Many of them, could believe that it happened in the past, but in these modern times, it would never happen. In 1851, Samuel Cartwright described the desire of slaves to flee from captivity as Drapetomania. His prescription was to “whip the devil out of them” as a preventative measure. Skip forward several decades to the 1920’s where political dissenters were involuntarily committed. One such case, Aurora D’Angelo, was involuntarily committed while protesting the judgement of Sacco and Vanzetti. During the Civil Rights Movement, a black pastor and activist named Clennon W. King Jr. attempted to enroll in the then all white University of Mississippi for summer graduate courses in 1958. Police arrested him on the grounds of “Any nigger who tried to enter Ole Miss must be crazy.” In the 1960’s Iona State Hospital started diagnosing African-Americans with schizophrenia for their “civil rights ideas”. Even today “Oppositional Defiant Disorder” could easily be used to pathologize anti-authortarianism. In California, you can be held against your will on a “5150 involuntary psychiatry hold”. This means that a law enforcement officer, psychological professional, and other person who is not qualified to make a diagnosis can say that you are a danger to the public, or yourself. This has been abused in the past and will continue to be abused until the law is repealed. In New York, whistleblowers are often sent on involuntary psychiatric holds and have their mental stability questioned.
In the end, politicians using doctors to declare someone a mental defective in order to strip them of their rights isn’t new, and these so-called “Red Flag” laws are no different. If they’re made law, anyone wanting to buy a firearm for protection will be deemed a danger to the public, and themselves. Red flags will be the only flags they see. They will use psychiatrists to hand out diagnosis, and encourage your friends and neighbors to call you in. Everything you say and do will be examined under a microscope, one small disagreement with a politician, a law, or even making jokes about these things may land you in a hospital or worse. I urge everyone to resist these laws and the politicians who are eager to pass them. Politicians from both the left and right are going to use these laws to grab more power.
Eric Hailar is the host of the “Rebel With a Cause” podcast. He is the current Elections Officer for the Libertarian Party of Louisiana, and has been active in the liberty movement since 2014. You can find his podcast at https://anchor.fm/rebelwithacause