This article appears in today’s issue of Florida Today serving the Brevard County region.

In my early days as a young detective, circa 1963-66, part of my job was to enforce pick-up orders of the court and bring people to mental health facilities for observation and if necessary, prolonged institutional incarceration. State law at that time allowed for a close family member or any three citizens to sign affidavits attesting to unstable mental problems, authorizing deputies to bring a subject in for evaluation. They were examined by mental health professionals who later made recommendations to the court. Most were released.

     Serious schizophrenics and/or psychopaths were involuntarily hospitalized by court order for unspecified periods of time. Some of those may have committed serious crimes had the law not existed.

     If such laws existed today in all states, we probably would not have had obvious psychopaths like Jared Loughner (Arizona) and James Holmes (Colorado) roaming free with guns in hand to slaughter masses of innocent people for no reason. They would have been isolated long before reaching that point. These young men had relatives who saw the growing unstableness but were powerless to do anything.

     In 1975, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that involuntary hospitalization and/or treatment violates an individual’s civil rights. This ruling forced individual states to change their statutes. Moving psychiatric patients from hospital settings to less restrictive environments was a shift known as “deinstitutionalization.” As a result, the system had to rely on two methods for dealing with the mentally ill; Drugs and jails.

      In other words, wait until someone commits an offense, i.e. murder, assault, etc., before the system can deal with such people. By then, it’s too late. Victims are dead.    

     Relying on medication for a solution to control the mentally ill is like relying on a recovering alcoholic to attend Alcoholic Anonymous on his own. Most will, some don’t. It’s all voluntary.

     Thus, we have the dilemma in today’s world with rapidly expanding populations and dwindling measures for effectively handling problems of mental illness.

     Little is heard about all this. Instead, like sheep following the political shepherd, our attention is directed toward guns, as though that is the end-all solution. Our minds are manipulated by government leaders and sensationalist media to have us believe it’s all about guns, while the true causes are buried in the fine print.

     If we compare what the print and broadcast media is giving the causes of mass shooting, by word count alone, it would be 100 to 1, guns over mental health. Just read any paper any day, listen to any news broadcast or review the agenda of lawmakers. No one is doing anything about improving the system and laws for mental illness.

     While I would agree that some improvements are needed in gun accountability legislation, not one word of the current proposals currently put forth in congress and by the White House, would have made one ounce of difference in the mass shootings of the last few years.

     But if we were able to turn back the clock to 1966, and give authorities and courts greater latitude in dealing with psychopaths, a lot of innocent victims would be alive today.

     It’s a no-brainer.

     Then again, who’s using brains?

Click here: Guest column: Addressing mental illness | FLORIDA TODAY



  1. Howard Bernbaum PE May 2, 2013 at 1:17 pm #

    Right on, Marshall. I couldn’t agree more. Thank you for the effort.

  2. Swifty May 2, 2013 at 1:26 pm #

    You can thank ACLU for all these loose nuts. They have their rights.

  3. Larry G. Tate, MD May 2, 2013 at 1:41 pm #

    Hear! Hear!! I had first hand exposure to the supreme courts action that deinstitutionalized the mentally ill in JacKson, Mississippi back in 1976 when I performed the court ordered autopsy of a nine year old boy. One of the deinstitutionalized schizophrenic patients that had previpously been medicated and housed at the State Mental Hospital for years without incident was responsible for the decapitation that made the autopsy possible . Thanks to the efforts of the ACLU this mental patient was no longer monitored nor properly medicated.

    I firmly agree with you . The spheeples, the media, and the law makers are not using their brains about this issue. Gun Control will do nothing toward stopping such atrocities. Laws supporting institutionalization for the mentally ill will drastically reduce such occurances. Wake up!!!!

    • Henry Tisdale May 4, 2013 at 7:32 pm #

      I agree also, Doc. But shall we all consider that these huge killings by those mentally disturbed people only began in high gear under Obama? Do not be surprised if we see that the President gets them off the hook. He has been involved in many other crimes, why not nuts with guns?

  4. Steve Gure May 2, 2013 at 2:15 pm #

    Our courts and the entire judicial sysytem has to return to common sense. It has to be entirely overholed.

  5. Tara May 2, 2013 at 3:44 pm #

    Excellent article…..a legacy from Ronald Regan….

  6. Charles Pierce May 2, 2013 at 4:10 pm #

    For me the problem is simple, presently the term “Not Guilty by reason of insanity or mental defect” should be change to read “Guilty but Insane or with mental defect.”
    The process become easier in that the individual is then sent to a mental hospital where they receive treatment for the mental illness and then can be released to jail (if appropriate) or released to the public on probation. Stay on you meds or continue treatment and you are not back in the hospital. Some thoughts.

  7. Charles May 2, 2013 at 8:13 pm #

    Our president is the “anti” anti-american, anti-lock-em-up,&anti gun-maybe he wants chaos in this country. The only thing he doesn’t seem anti about is those who would be our enemy

  8. Fran of 57 May 2, 2013 at 9:13 pm #

    What?? defines “mental illness”? That is my concern w/this issue!

    WHO? is going to decide and what critera are they going to use. J. Napalatono has already declared that returning vets, Christians & tea party types are a security risk. Is that the critera they will use?

    In NYC they singled out every person who was on any kind of certain types of drugs. Whether mentally ill or not. Will that be the critera? If you’ve ever taken a tranquilizer, sedative, pain med., etc.?

    Where does it end?

    I don’t want crazy’s roaming the streets w/guns either. But I also don’t want a mental illness label put on all people who don’t agree w/the administration, using flimsy excuses & loosely defined critera to take away people’s rights to own a gun.

  9. Ernest Melby May 2, 2013 at 10:59 pm #

    Right on Marshall! I grew up in an area where everyone had a gun. Yet, I didn’t know of anyone who harmed anyone by firearm..
    People who were of questionable sanity were held in State Hospitals for evaluation and possible incarceration. Now the hospitals have been closed and inmates are on the street.
    Authorities called this progress. I call it stupidity.

  10. Pat May 2, 2013 at 11:32 pm #

    It’s been pretty obvious over the years that the Supreme Court doesn’t always make the best decisions beneficial to our citizens. I agree with your opinion wholeheartedly this time —the laws when you began your work were much better than they are now. There would undoubtedly have been far less bloodshed than we have had in the last few years. It would be nice if 100 or so of those who worked in law enforcement when you did could get together and become a force that could come up with some facts about those years that would prove to our government leaders the value of the laws that existed in those years, and the value of returning to them. I do believe in background checks for gun purchases, though—100%. And any business or group —or individual – who sells guns should have a file showing the background check for each individual he/she sold a gun to. Also, nothing concerning firearms should be sold by mail. (I know—I’m dreaming)

  11. Dan Townsend May 3, 2013 at 1:15 am #

    Closure of state institutions for the mentally ill was touted as a money-saving measure.
    It’s obvious that that rationale was wrong.
    It’s interesting that the NRA and its allies blames the mentally ill for the surge in gun-related violence in the U.S. By the way, statistics don’t reflect those who die later from gunshot wounds, but are listed on death certificates as deceased from “organ failure”, “pneumonia”, etc. resulting from hospital admissions due to gunshot injuries.
    Who are the mentally ill here, when Wayne La Pierre needs a fully-armed 20 man guard contingent for his appearance before the National Press Club.
    Guns are an addiction driven by the same profit motives as the drug cartels. “Pushers” are on the march with their allies in Congress and the media. Money is talking–it is speech, according to the Supreme Court.

  12. Karen May 3, 2013 at 5:24 pm #

    Already read it! Picked up on it from your fb posting. I have mixed reactions to your position. I too remember those days. I also remember the wide spread abuse that of those laws that caused them to be overturned. The supposed safeguards were non-existent because it was in the doctors’ personal interests to keep people incarcerated, both to maintain the numbers and income and because they were often duplicitous with the families’ false commitment of a family member. And protesting one’s sanity is about as effective as protesting one’s innocence! No one believes you, even though it’s the absolute truth. And yet, there are those running around free who definitely need to be locked up for the safety of everyone. I have a cousin-in-law that fits that category. Then there’s the whole issue of governmental abuse for the control of the population… So, like I said, mixed reactions!

  13. Snake Hunter May 4, 2013 at 5:13 am #

    Tara Said: “A legacy from Ronald Reagan”. That’s Wrong!

    Gerald Ford took command in the hectic aftermath of Nixon’s resignation in 1974,
    was in office until January of 1977… and Jimmy Carter took the helm from 1977 until
    January 20th, 1981…. Then… Ron Reagan had his 8 years with Nikita Krushchev, and The Berlin Wall Came Down!. Britain’s Margaret Thatcher was his best friend.
    ___ ___

  14. Henry Tisdale May 4, 2013 at 7:37 pm #

    Hang onto your guns; Obama cannot confiscate ALL the bullets for all the guns out there. Hitler realized the value of every Swiss family owning, training periodically, and ready to kill any nazi who attempts to storm into Switzerland. Hitler was not only smart for leaving the Swiss alone, but he also was aware of a strong Army and Air Force they had developed.

  15. Snake Hunter May 4, 2013 at 10:33 pm #


    The “Progressives” led by Chicago Loonies will never disarm our aware citizens here.

    I’ve talked to many of these military families over the last few years. They have the weapons and the stashed ammo, and they are ready to defend against any target
    when the poop hits the fan.

    Some read what I’ve published on my blog, see me in town, or in a cafe… and they spot the insignia on my cap, and are quick to give me a firm hand-shake, tell me that they are ready, whenever!!!

    ___ ___

  16. Pete May 5, 2013 at 3:38 pm #

    Why is it we can always point to a simpler time in our life where these issues were sorted with common sense?

    I know from some experience—on the other side of the issue—wherein there should be safeguards to disallow the commitment of someone based on the testimony of just three people. Even when there is a court intervention and a psych evaluation, the stigma and records created can follow the individual. Having so advised—-you still should be able to engage the process with extreme penalty for anyone who would use a simpler psych process as a club or weapon against someone unnecessarily.
    Moreover, should the person who is committed for evaluation come out the other side with no known professional diagnosis, their records should be sealed and/or expunged and there should be no prejudice.

    Over time this would give greater weight to any measure that rightfully evaluates an individual who illustrates through behavior and pattern a need to get them the mental health they may not even know they need. It is exactly this person who should be separated from any kind of firearm.

    Said another way: its not about the guns, its never been about the guns—its about the head!

  17. Snake Hunter May 5, 2013 at 4:04 pm #

    Right… it has never been about our guns. The people with chronic mental illness
    need to be isolated from the general public, and provided with the best medication and care that’s available. To delay treatment until after a murderous outrage occurs
    is simply bad policy, bad governance. – reb
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