[ExI] insanity plea

Anders Sandberg anders at aleph.se
Mon Feb 18 10:48:32 UTC 2013

On 18/02/2013 02:09, spike wrote:
> During the current US debate on new gun laws, a question occurred to 
> me.  Suppose we manage to pass a law which would prohibit those deemed 
> mentally unstable from having a firearm.  If a crazy person was caught 
> with a firearm, couldn't she just plead insanity?  If that didn't work 
> and the judge declared her sane, couldn't she then plead innocent of 
> owning a gun while insane?

Legal insanity is an interesting concept. It is not the same thing as 
being insane in a medical or everyday sense, but that a person's mind 
is/was not working in such a way that they could understand that what 
they were doing was wrong. See
(about halfway down) for a nice explanation. Including of why insanity 
rarely works as an excuse. Conversely, it is totally possible to be too 
unstable own a gun (say having severe personality disorders) and yet be 
legally sane.

Hmm, being in ethics makes you doubt most commonsense definitions of 
right and wrong, should it be regarded as a form of legal insanity? No: 
ethicists criticise *moral* right and wrong in strange ways, but they 
have little to say about legal right and wrong. That is another faculty.

Anders Sandberg,
Future of Humanity Institute
Philosophy Faculty of Oxford University

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