I am mentally ill. I won’t bore you with the details, but I’m one of hundreds of thousands of Americans with a tough-to-treat, life-affecting neurosis known as obsessive compulsive disorder. Since I happen to live near a leading psychiatric hospital, I’m one of the lucky ones. I was diagnosed as a young man. I visit my psychiatrist regularly and take a medication at the beginning of every day. I’m in the “functional” category. I have a family and work for a living, though I don’t earn much. I even own a home.
Much of the mental illness I live with is internal, involving repetitive actions and thoughts that are nearly impossible to control. But it’s hard to hide. Do I exhibit symptoms? My wife would say yes. And some of these involve episodes of anger.
If I polled my friends, most of whom have no idea I am ill, I would get different answers. Some might say I was more or less normal. Some would call me a crank. At least one of my neighbors, I’ll bet, thinks I have serious problems—especially after we argued over some trees he cut down.
As it happens, I have no interest in owning a gun. But what if I did? Should society stop me? In the current debate following the Parkland massacre, there are many—including the president, moderates in Congress and even some gun-rights advocates—who say so.
If you agree, I have to ask: How will you go about this? By some edict from my doctor? Even if he were inclined to sign one, which I doubt, do you not realize that I could easily obtain a second opinion?
The idea of stripping rights from the mentally ill is a very slippery slope. Rarely are we sufferers institutionalized or restrained nowadays unless we’ve harmed ourselves or others. Want to label a few of us as “dangerous”? We’re as hard to decipher and diagnose as anyone you know.
Those, like me, who suffer from mental illness come in millions of different degrees of severity and functionality. Experts these days talk about patients not as having autism but being on the “autism spectrum.” Is there an obsessive-compulsive spectrum, too? A spectrum for every disorder?
Back to my gun. You wouldn’t have known that I have possibly worrisome issues if I hadn’t outed myself by writing this. How many people like me are out there? It’s impossible to know.
Perhaps you could sit down with my nervous neighbor, and make your case in court. You could get an injunction. Prevent me from buying a firearm—and put other restrictions on my actions, too. But I’d have my day in court. My months in court. My case could take years.
Isn’t that the way it should be? Doesn’t it reflect the personal freedoms guaranteed in the Constitution? Whatever your views on guns, or on people like me with mental illness, I am urging you to be consistent. Rights are rights. Protections are protections. I’m hoping against hope that you agree.
Mr. Mandel is an author of books for children, including “Jackhammer Sam” and “Bun, Onion, Burger.”