Coalition Letter in Opposition to H.R. 297

5/23/07

SUBJECT: Opposition to H.R. 297 (retroactive lifetime labeling of Americans as mentally defective)

Dear Congressman:

We the undersigned organizations urge you to oppose H.R. 297, a bill to greatly expand federal lists of “mentally defective” people. H.R. 297 will result in a large scale unwarranted invasion of the personal privacy of millions of Americans, and an unjustified lifetime deprivation of their civil rights.

In the wake of the Virginia Tech murders, some have urged immediate passage of Democrat Representative Carolyn McCarthy’s H.R. 297 to require and fund massive mental health data transfers from every state to the federal government.

But it is a grave mistake to make mental illness a proxy for problems with violence when in fact we know that only a small percentage of mentally ill people represent a danger. Under H.R. 297’s danger classification logic, it follows that many racial, ethnic, and age classifications should be established to similarly monitor the behavior and restrict civil rights of Americans.

H.R. 297 is a federal mandate commanding states to make end runs around their state medical privacy laws and report mental health data about citizens. Once the federal bureaucrats have this data, they will issue these people a mental defect scarlet letter and close the book on them. For example, since 1992, Congress has forbidden the ATF from entertaining petitions of persons to restore their civil rights even if their rights were restored by a state court!

Any action to retroactively label people mentally defective without notice and a hearing is a violation of basic fundamental fairness and due process. Further, now declaring persons who in the past voluntarily submitted to mental health evaluation and/or treatment as mentally defective would deter people from seeking mental health assistance in the future. Finally, millions of Americans and veterans who might have undergone post-combat zone counseling or other treatment could find themselves unknowingly in violation of federal gun laws, or, lose their security clearance or employment.

In short, rash action to mass categorize Americans as mentally defective is unfair and would have grossly harmful unintended future consequences.

Research shows people recover from mental illness, but once these lists of mentally defective citizens are created, they will be nearly impossible to correct, as mental defects are in practice lifetime federal gun possession disabilities. And when the federal bureaucracy gets their hands on these fortified lists, there will be a stampede of government agencies, airlines, data aggregators, and others fighting to use the lists to discriminate against prospective employees, students, travelers, etc.

In the final analysis, arbitrarily eroding the civil liberties of some people does not make our country safer because the threat of being classified as a criminal will drive good people away from treatment that could help them get well.

Sincerely,

Association of American Physicians and Surgeons
American Association of Practicing Psychiatrists
American Policy Center
Citizen Outreach Project
Consumer Action
Cyber Privacy Project
DownsizeDC.org, Inc.
The Fairfax County Privacy Council
The Multiracial Activist
National Coalition of Mental Health Professionals and Consumers
OpenCarry.org
Oregon Firearms Federation
Pain Relief Network Patient Privacy Rights Foundation
Private Citizen, Inc.
Republican Liberty Caucus
Texas Citizens Defense League
Virginia Citizens Defense League
Virginia Gun Owners Coalition
Patient Privacy Rights Foundation
Gun Owners of America

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