In the United States, if you are seriously depressed, you can purchase anti-depressive drugs like Prozac, but only if you have a prescription from a doctor. Anti-depressants are enormously beneficial to millions of people but they are also potentially dangerous if used improperly. So, you have to see a doctor and get an assessment before you can go to a drug store and purchase one.
But in the United States, in places like Virginia, a seriously depressed or deranged person can walk into a store and buy a semi-automatic handgun and a box of ammunition. All you need is two forms of identification. You don’t need permission from a doctor or counselor or anyone in the business of screening people to make sure they’re fit to have a gun.
We can debate the relative benefits and dangers of anti-depressants and semi-automatic handguns, but if 30,000 Americans were killed each year by anti-depressants, as they are by handguns, anti-depressants would be even more strictly regulated. So why aren’t handguns? Consider the politics.
The Pharmaceutical Manufacturer’s Association is thought to be one of the most powerful lobbies in America. Years ago, it was illegal to advertise prescription drugs. Now, due in part to Big Pharma’s clout, our airwaves and magazines are filled with images of happy people who weren’t until their physician prescribed a pill. But Big Pharma still hasn’t been able to cut out the physician altogether because the process for screening people before they can buy an anti-depressant is just too important.
By contrast, the National Rifle Association — with more money and organization than even Big Pharma — has eliminated almost all screening measures for buying guns. In recent years, the NRA has even shielded gun dealers from liability. Not even Big Pharma and the powerful American Medical Association have managed to shield doctors from liability.
Look abroad and you have another useful point of contrast. In United States, many people who are seriously depressed can’t afford to see a doctor, let alone get a prescription. Unlike every other advanced nation, we do not provide universal health care, or ready access to mental health services. But unlike every other advanced nation, we do allow almost anyone buy a handgun.