Wednesday | November 22, 2017
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Human Matters: Abusing ethics to further anti-gun politics? Ridiculous

Let me be clear that, until a few days ago, I had never heard of The Western Center for Journalism, which describes itself as “a vigorous watchdog that reports on government corruption and abuse. … We believe that informed public debate requires quality journalism and reporting.”

A friend forwards a link to one such effort of “required quality,” written by B. Christopher Agee: Call it up. Read it. I’ll be waiting at the top of the next paragraph.

(Cue elevator music.)

Dear Mr. Agee:

Do you know about state laws (not to mention a counselor’s or doctor’s professional licensing ethics obligations) under the category “duty to warn” and “duty to protect”? These laws and standards of practice require certain professionals (primarily physicians and mental health counselors of various ilk) to do exactly what this doctor did.

And the police are trained (not to mention prompted by scores of successful civil lawsuits) to do exactly what these police officers did. That is, law enforcement does not attempt to become psychological evaluators when responding to a “duty to protect” call from one of the above professionals.

Unlike the deliberate propaganda of the Web photo, the police do not in fact show up with gas masks, billy clubs, scatter guns and SWAT gear. But they do show up. And by the time they get there at the behest of a doctor or counselor’s testimony of suicidality, they don’t come to make a clinical assessment. They come to fulfill the “duty to protect.”

Ms. Sutterfield “mentioned something about suicide”? There is not a psychiatrist on this planet (who is not him/herself derelict) who would ever respond by saying: “A-ha! I hate guns! My anti-gun politics have an opportunity here. And since my government is anti-gun, I will deploy the police department to further my politics in this case.”

Nor is there a psychiatrist on this planet who would ever make a “duty to protect” call just because a patient “mentions something about suicide.” A lot of my patients mention suicide. Suicidal ideation happens at some juncture to most human beings. No, a mental health professional makes a “duty to protect” call in response to overt suicidal threats not followed by a clear verbal contract not to die.

If, in person or on the phone, I had a patient make such a threat, refuse to make a verbal no-suicide contract, and then bolt from my office or hang up on me, I would make a “duty to protect” call. If, in the interim, should my patient call me back and beg me to call off the impending police intervention, I would not call it off. For the same reason that Transportation Security Administration agents don’t laugh at jokes about bombs in the screening line.

Ambushed in her home? Poppycock! The police drove to her home. Confiscated her guns? Damn straight. Without a warrant? The “warrant,” in this case, is the professional’s testimony. Involuntary psych hospitalization? But of course! In our society you surrender some of your rights, for a few days at least, when you make a suicide threat to a professional. For the same reason that, should you make a joke about a bomb to a TSA agent, you will miss your plane and get a chance to tell that same joke to a couple of FBI agents, who might or might not arrest you.

The Fourth Amendment does not, in fact, guarantee the right in every case to be left alone in one’s home. If you lock yourself in your house, call a friend, a professional or the police and say, “I’m sitting here with a gun in my lap and I intend to kill myself,” well, you’re gonna get some uninvited company at your door.

Mr. Agee, you write, “The entire ordeal stemmed from an allegation by her doctor that (the woman) has since denied.”

But of course such a patient would deny it!

Yes, the law (regarding such cases) does present one grave vulnerability. To wit: I suppose a professional could make a “duty to protect/warn” call for corrupt or evil reasons — to make a particular patient “look crazy.” But I simply have never heard of such abuses. And certainly not abuses to further anti-gun politics. That’s … ridiculous.

Mr. Agee, this column, relative to the goals of Second Amendment activists, is, on a good day, a non sequitur. And, can I just say that, were I a passionate Second Amendment activist, I would cringe to have this “quality” piece of “journalism” arguing my cause.

Steven Kalas is a behavioral health consultant and counselor at Las Vegas Psychiatry and the author of “Human Matters: Wise and Witty Counsel on Relationships, Parenting, Grief and Doing the Right Thing” (Stephens Press). Contact him at


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