Creation of ‘The Dangerous List’ is Scapegoating

SPECIAL NOTE:  This article is written and submitted by Bonnie Jo Schell, Chairperson of the Board of Directors for NC CANSO.

President Obama’s Plan to protect US children and communities from random and planned violence includes one alarming proposal. The President wants all loopholes closed from state and national lists that could keep guns out of dangerous hands—the hands of those diagnosed to be mentally ill. NY quickly passed legislation to force professionals to notify an agent of the state if they reasonably judged the patient as likely to harm herself or others, compromising patient-doctor confidentiality.

Keeping lists of people either receiving treatment or committed for danger to self or others or likelihood to functionally deteriorate is scapegoating the one out of every five Americans likely to need mental health treatment at some point in their lives. The List demonizes the “Other” as The Problem, in the same way that the rhetoric in the last election demonized 47% of our citizens receiving government benefits as being responsible for the high debt ceiling of the US. At least none of the mass murderers since Columbine were members of the 47%.

In scapegoating a person or relatively powerless group is made to bear the blame, is punished and stigmatized for wrongs that were not of his doing. The term comes from a goat let loose in the wilderness on Yom Kippur after the high priest symbolically laid the sins of the people of Israel on its head. (Lev 16:8-22.) In the U.S. we have scapegoated Communists and their sympathizers, Japanese-Americans, Gays, Roman Catholics, the Irish, African-Americans, people from Mexico or South America, and since the 9/11 attacks, people of Middle Eastern ancestry. The Inquisition tortured and burned people making suggestions of religious and social reform; The Holocaust gassed people charged with being a drain on the German economy: The lists of expendables included Gypsies, the Physically and Mentally Disabled, Inebriates, Homosexuals, and Jews—all “useless eaters.”
The Dangerous List would contain many false positives since the only sure way to get services is to say you feel like killing yourself or someone else. Every homeless person in the dead of winter knows that.
The Dangerous List is a rush to “do something” that is overly simplified and not sound:

• Neither experts in criminal law nor psychiatrists can accurately predict the next violent offenders.
• Individuals with suicidal ideation will be careful to not mention it to a therapist or doctor for fear of being put on The List. Whose suicide rates have increased at an alarming rate? Teenagers and senior men, usually not in treatment. There are twice as many suicides among mental health patients as homicides.
• The chances that the list would contain more than 1% of the 5% of persons with mental illness who commit violent acts while using alcohol is slim.
• In these days of mass access to information “in the public domain,” lists of persons with mental illness are bound to be misused. Will Community Colleges and/or Universities check their applicants against The List? Will veterans with PTSD be turned down for further education? Will Homeland Security use The List at airports?
• Those considered to have the personality disorder of being a sociopath without any empathy for others may never be on The List unless a parent puts them on when they kill animals as a child, store up grudges, blaming others, and are socially rejected from groups they wish to belong to.

Back in 1963 when I was diagnosed with schizophrenia, the doctor told my parents to be sure I never received help in the public system or had my psychiatric sessions submitted to a group or private insurance company or I would never be allowed to teach school in Georgia. I learned to pass as “normal.” I was fearful on every job that it would somehow be discovered that I lied in answering the old question: Have you now or in the past been diagnosed or told you have a mental illness? That question, along with birthdate, is gone now since it was a violation of the American with Disabilities Act.

I thought times had changed. Mental Illness is now known to be a condition from which at least 60% recover completely. Hollywood and country music stars, athletes and politicians, have been open about having depression or bipolar and addiction disorders. They get treatment, are interviewed on mindful, deliberate changes in their lives they are making, and they go back to work.
Personally I don’t object to persons who have been judicially committed as a danger to self or others being prohibited from owning a gun, but that prohibition should have time limits and not be for a lifetime.
In the US we keep a registry of those with Tuberculosis because of its extreme contagion and destruction. We keep lists of convicted pedophiles, but not all of those who may have thought about sexually molesting minors and mentioned that to a therapist. Even though a small percentage of persons with diabetes go into a coma and cause automobile or truck accidents, we don’t require doctors to turn in the names of those with Type I or II Diabetes. People with epilepsy in most states can have a driver’s license if they have gone three years without a seizure. We do not have a master list of households to which peace officers have been called for domestic violence or restraining order violations; that information only is revealed in the newspapers after a murder.

The last time I was seriously and dangerously suicidal, I made a daily contract with my doctor to live another day and to write poetry and call a friend every day until I began to feel better. If I had revealed my suicidal thoughts and the doctor had immediately reported me to authorities, I would not have gone back. Compiling a master Dangerous Persons List gives the state a false sense of protection and safety. Furthermore, it removes dignity and respect from a group of people who have not committed a crime.
It would make more sense to reduce the availability of weapons of mass destruction.

Bonnie Jo Schell
January 21, 2013

5 thoughts on “Creation of ‘The Dangerous List’ is Scapegoating



  2. Awesome story! Would be nice to see more updates to your very nice blog 🙂

  3. “The List” is not meant to demonize people being treated for mental illness. It is meant to keep guns out of the hands of people who may use them to hurt themselves or others. Law enforcement is already required by law not to give pistol purchase permits to people who have been institutionalized or are substance abusers. However there is no legitimate way for Law Enforcement reasonable to know if such a situation exists. I agree there should be a way to get off “The List” but I also agree that the list is equally important. Laws cannot be enforced if mental illness is held in the dark. Being in the dark is what causes the stigma in the first place. Make things known and the stigma fades. Educate the population and stigma fades. Ask the average American about Alzheimer’s and they don’t know what it is, but they know it exists and that it is a real problem. Those same American’s mostly believe that mental illness doesn’t exist and that people are making bad choices instead of incapacitated ones. It is a shame that this argument has to be attached to the extreme of gun violence. The List would save from many suicides that have been accomplished by immediate lethal force. The right to bare arms in a fundamental right, I agree. But we have to impose limits on people who have demonstrated an incapacity for sound judgment in regards to their own well being and the well being of others. Gun’s aside, look at Andrea Yates. The voices in her head told her to drown her five kids to save them from an evil world. The list should be well defined to get on and well defined to be removed. But The List is essential not simply to limit rights but to ensure them. Being on the list could provide more immediate access to care, instead of being placed on waiting lists. Recently I advocated for a person who went for treatment to discover that due to financial restraints Triumph in Wake county had closed theirs doors. They didn’t help their clients to new sources of help. They abandoned them to find help on their own. The person I helped tried two places before asking me for help and then three more that I recommended. None would take them. Not until their life was so disrupted that it required a commitment to a psychiatric hospital. This person does not need a gun, but they need to be on the list so their life doesn’t get placed in jeopardy again.

  4. Bonnie Schell

    Daniel, I think I agree with everything you say in your response to my opposition to a list of individuals with mental illness. I simply don’t think it would necessarily work in our favor. For sure people who have been involved in domestic violence or been suicidal should not have access to guns. On that we agree. Andrea Yates didn’t use a gun however.
    If all peace officers were trained in Crisis Intervention skills or had taken Mental Health First Aid, they could check a person’s name the same as they look up your driver’s license number and maybe not be so heavy handed in approaching the individual and certainly not shoot an individual in the back if he/she runs. This “suicide by cop” rate, I read somewhere, is increasing. I think that perhaps people with Alzheimer’s and dementia should be on a list because they get in a car and don’t know where they are going or get lost leaving the grounds of where they live.

    The answers I am not certain about are who puts you on the list? And Who has access to the List? Can someone in your neighborhood who thinks you act peculiar or strange look up your name on the List the same as they can for a sexually violent prediter?

    Your friend would not have been on the list because he didn’t have services. The sad truth in NC with our just keep the safety net in place mentality is that you have to be dangerous to yourself or others to get help. Escalating psychosis, fear, confusion, anger, rage, and deep despair, in extreme degrees damages the brain I believe and we force people to that point. At that point when you are hospitalized or jailed, your name would probably be put on the list. But you as friend and peer could not put someone on a list of potentially dangerous to self or others persons.

    I agree with you that the time for shame over mental illness needs to be over, but it is not. On this list you are associated with being potentially violent and the general population is afraid of that. I’d like a list of The Impulsive. Then people who might create a symphony, write poetry, stay up all night with a friend or try to end the lives of her children would be on it. So would artists, football players, actresses, Robin Williams and maybe one of your neighbors and both of us probably.

    Again, thank you and let’s keep talking,

    Bonnie Schell

    • She first was arrested for carrying a concealed weapon. And before making it to court, she then tried to run over two sheriff Deputy with her car then let them on a 22 mile car chase before they stopped her and arrested her again. She is a danger to self and others and had her name been on a list she would not have had a gun, and she would most likely have been assigned a guardianship when it was requested. The courts refusing to allow a subpoena for mental health records is the judicial branch ignoring facts, date, medical conditions and leaving seriously mentally ill people rotting with the rights on.

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