Firearms and the Mentally Ill

By Dave Dolbee published on in General, Safety and Training

Look back to any of the mass-shooting tragedies and, at the heart of the matter, you will find mental illness. By extension, if there is a single gun control-related issue that truly has a majority of support, it would be a measure related to restricting access to and ownership of firearms from certain mentally ill individuals. According to the Associated Press and NORC Center for Public Affairs Research at the University of Chicago: “More than 8 in 10 Americans favor a federal law preventing mentally ill people from purchasing guns,” the AP reported March 23.

Let me back up a step and refer you to the disclaimer in the box on the right.

I am an ardent supporter of the Second Amendment. This article is designed to foster discussion—not take any position—so unload your accusation guns and please hold your social media fire. I do not speak for Cheaper Than Dirt! nor does Cheaper Than Dirt! in any way endorse, oppose, support, or whatever else… any of the words, ideas, or concepts used in this article. Please accept this as the standard disclaimer, which we unfortunately need in today’s charged climate where social media warriors so often take offense and want to blame someone for merely daring to discuss a topic.

Now, it would be easy enough to dispute many of the claims and reported statistics made in the AP article, but that is not my point. I would simply be preaching to the choir, as they say. Instead, I would pose my first question, “Where would you draw the line between mental illness where an individual has been evaluated to be a danger to themselves or others, and the right to firearm ownership?”

We can look to Florida’s latest round of gun control laws to see where it drew the lines. For Florida, in the 14-page law that was enacted following the Parkland shooting is a measure to temporarily prevent people “at high risk of harming themselves or others from accessing firearms.” So, that is interesting. It is a restriction. However, due to the word “temporarily” being placed in the language, we can deduce that there must be some limits or path to regaining rights. As always, I am sure the devil is in the details. Again, I ask you, the reader, for your opinion on this. Do, or would you, support such a law?

Pitfalls and Consequences

Next, drilling a little deeper but still along the same lines, how exactly is it determined (before an event) that a person is a danger to themselves or others? Is this by their own admission or a culmination of events or behaviors? What is the danger of a mental health professional with an agenda, or the government, going overboard and using such laws as a back door to gun control? After all, not so long ago under the Obama Administration, there were threats to the gun rights of individuals collecting government services.

Then there is the question of whether such policies would cause those who would otherwise seek treatment to shy away from it due to a fear of losing their Second Amendment rights. So I’ll pose the question, “If the person is able to recognize their problems to the extent that they voluntarily reach out for help, should they still be precluded from firearm ownership or possession, or should a voluntary temporary surrender be all that is necessary?”

ATF Form 4473

Read the following account and then comment.

At a hearing in St. Lucie County, Florida, Adam Fetterman, attorney for the St. Lucie County Sheriff’s Office, got Circuit Judge Janet Croom, who handles mental health matters, to issue such an order to seize a man’s firearms after the man was arrested for brandishing a gun while walking half-naked and acting unusually in a parking lot.

That seems pretty cut and dry, but neither the suspect, nor an attorney for him, was in court to potentially fight the order. Why hasn’t there been a lawsuit fighting such actions? Perhaps because it was in the public’s best interest? Maybe the individuals affected recognized the issue and have not sought to fight such orders. Sheriff’s officials have received cooperation from families in the other cases, so there have been no protracted legal battles.

Though Florida law does not require the accused to be present in court or have representation present, do you think civil rights groups should get involved in a case such as this proactively, or was the system’s actions appropriate in the interest of public safety?

Let’s look at another case in yet murkier water.

On April 2, a circuit judge in Orlando lifted a temporary restriction on firearm possession against a student at the University of Central Florida.

Law enforcement initiated an investigation of the 21-year-old student after he went on social media to praise the alleged murderers in Parkland and Las Vegas as heroes. The student then went on to allegedly tell police he would probably shoot up the middle or high schools where he had been bullied if provoked by a tragic life event, according to the Orlando Sentinel.

The attorney for the student made the argument that the admission was protected as free speech under the First Amendment.

A young woman in a dark t-shirt calls 911

This young student is illustrating a homeowner dialing 911 while checking out a potential threat, not being the threat.

“She argued (the student) had not done anything to suggest he would act on the comments,” the Sentinel reported. “He had not purchased a weapon, and he did not have a criminal record… He would have voluntarily relinquished his gun rights had he been given the option.”

The student didn’t even have a gun, which begs the question, “After such an admission, should the student be placed on a watch list that prevents firearm ownership or requires additional scrutiny before legally purchasing a firearm?” Personally, I feel this still blames the firearm more than the individual. To a degree, it accounts for legally purchased firearms, but it does little to nothing against illegal purchases.

I have heard the counterargument that we should control the things we can, and react as best we can to minimize the things we cannot prevent. How does this affect your opinion or decision-making? Should the legal system have placed a restriction on firearms ownership by the student due to an exercise of free speech that may have been threatening? If no, how does that balance after an event where people look back and say all of the signs were there but no one acted upon them? If yes, what crime was committed that warrants the loss of a constitutional right?

Conclusion

I am not sure a heading of “conclusion” is appropriate here. The topic has so many variables, I do not think there is a simple answer or conclusion. The language of the Second Amendment is very clear to me, but we have placed limits on the First Amendment (yelling “Fire!” in a crowded theater). There are situations when individuals have given up their Fourth Amendment protections against certain search and seizure, but that was after a “mentally competent person” signed a voluntary agreement. I do not equate that with most of the questions posed here regarding Second Amendment rights.

Let’s hear your opinion. As a community, let’s listen to the perspectives, opinions, ideas, and solutions of others. Sound off in the comment section with your opinion or any answers you have to the questions posed in the article.

SLRule

Growing up in Pennsylvania’s game-rich Allegany region, Dave Dolbee was introduced to whitetail hunting at a young age. At age 19 he bought his first bow while serving in the U.S. Navy, and began bowhunting after returning from Operation Desert Shield/Desert Storm. Dave was a sponsored Pro Staff Shooter for several top archery companies during the 1990s and an Olympic hopeful holding up to 16 archery records at one point. During Dave’s writing career, he has written for several smaller publications as well as many major content providers such as Guns & Ammo, Shooting Times, Outdoor Life, Petersen’s Hunting, Rifle Shooter, Petersen’s Bowhunting, Bowhunter, Game & Fish magazines, Handguns, F.O.P Fraternal Order of Police, Archery Business, SHOT Business, OutdoorRoadmap.com, TheGearExpert.com and others. Dave is currently a staff writer for Cheaper Than Dirt!

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Comments (49)

  • Illanoyed

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    Maybe a bit different angle here – the Sandy Hook Shooter was Autistic, considered a disability, not mental illness. The Las Vegas shooter is un-diagnosed – one might say anecdotally mentally ill in hindsight, on basis of the act he committed. The Marjorie Stoneman shooter was certainly “angry”, and reached out for help he never received, but is there a specific “mental illness” diagnosis? (he certainly qualified to purchase his rifle) The Santa Fe HS shooter had no reported signs of mental illness (other than anecdotal after the fact).

    Point is, it’s easy to categorize as “mentally ill” in generalization, but a whole lot harder to parse in specific situations.

    Reply

  • Razor

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    You are the exact reason why I am against these types of laws … because they will not define things properly! You are just like almost everyone else in the US who needs a little help during a certain portion in their life and need some counseling and have some anxiety because life is difficult sometimes. That is NOT mental illness! IN NO WAY OR SHAPE should it be considered as such! All people have emotions and everyone has a bad time during one portion of their lives or another. The 2nd Amendment does not specify it only applies to those who are happy and joyful and play under rainbows with pixie dust!

    Reply

  • DanUpham

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    No No No! Your suggestion is completely out of line with all of our rights afforded to all Americans under the Constitution. I certainly understand how difficult it is to listen to some of these “inflammatory” remarks, but it is protected speech. There are a number of countries that have social police that do what you suggest, but I would not live in any of them. Nor would you if you don’t recognize that this feeds the lefts narrative and is exactly what many on the left believe. Sorry, cannot agree.

    Reply

    • karl

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      the REALITY is,once you’re restrained/incarcerated/evaluated[whatever the term used and REGARDLESS of the end evaluation,] you WILL lose your NICS clearance in New York State. It is a bogus method used by hoplophobes

      Reply

  • Jack

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    This is not a firearms / weapons issue, it is an individual issue. If someone makes inflamatory statements, in public or in social forums, this individual should be restrained and evaluated for a comunsurate 48 to 72 hours to determine if this person is a threat to themselves and / or others. This is not a violation of civil rights,
    as this person self-precipitated the closer observation of their mental condition. This falls in the same pervue as a person who screams fire in a croweded theater when none exist. They would be restrained and investigated until the threat was properly assessed.

    Reply

  • Richard Connelly

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    If mental illness is used as a criteria for disarming the citzenry, then let’s start by disarming our politicians first.

    We(gun owners who have never been convicted of a crime; felony or gross misdemeanor) can create an ombudsman group to ascertain their mental stability to own a firearm.

    Then upon our recommendation to the Sheriff of the County(who are elected and answerable to their local constituents the politician is elected from); whereupon we can call for their being disarmed under penalty of contempt.

    Let’s see how they would like that.

    Reply

  • Scott

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    My opinion on the matter is best stated with this quote from Benjamin Franklin “Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety”. Making laws to stop something has never stopped it and won’t while we still have free will (I.e. Homicide is already illegal but yet we see it every day). Laws only work for true full law abiding citizens, plain and simple. And as far as the mental health aspect goes the CDC has said that nearly half (50%) of all adults in the USA will develop a mental illness in their lifetime. I know most people won’t want to hear it but in my opinion the only way to attempt to stop crimes and tragedies from happening is by bringing God and prayer back into not just our homes but our schools and places of business as well, and stopping the hatred for our brothers and sisters regardless of our differences in religion, beliefs, and stances.

    Reply

    • Stone Jones

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      Amen. America is in a moral crisis and you can’t legislate morality.

      Reply

  • Karl

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    In 2013 the s.o.b.s in Clifton Springs,NY Hospital kept me an additional day and didn’t issue prescribed diabetic and glaucoma Rxs simply because I insisted on having a legal witness when speaking to the shrinks/staff. have to regard the those staffs as only arrogant charlatans.Any one can lie/make a false claim against you and you will be institutionalized for >=72 hours.With that you’ll lose your firearms/pistol permit/NICS/UT non resident CCW permit.
    Be exceedingly careful if you’re in NYState and store any firearms off site of your residence.The state or local pigs will seize and steal them.
    Been there.

    Reply

  • Delta Elite 10mm

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    Your call for serious reflection and discussion is commendable. As others here in the comment section have noted, a label of “mental illness” can become a catch all, to be wielded by anti gun biased judges. To address concerns of irrational/violent propensity, an evaluation needs to be developed specific to this issue. Could we trust such and instrument to be unbiased? That’s where development of said instrument comes in. In the case of the 21 year old in your article, we have only to ask ourselves what the resulting arguments against the “mentally ill” and gun ownership in general would be if he were granted gun ownership and he did commit a violent act.

    Reply

  • Clifffalling

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    I have worked in mental health for over 20 years in AZ. All aspects from inpatient hospital to outpatient meds only. Over the years I have initiated countless involuntary commitments. The idea of DTS and DTO, should remain in any legislation. Using the term “mentally ill” in proposed law is foolish. There are pretty hefty penalties for filing false commitment applications, however, I can say that in mental health and law enforcement, these applications are seldom questioned. For those in comments that seem to have the attitude of “lock ’em up”, remember that paranoia (of the govt, for example) can easily be worked into a viable diagnosis. Also, when those two psychologists in that 72 hour period are evaluating you, they may spend as little as 5 minutes with you. If they don’t like you, if the nurses or techs don’t like you… the commitment will be upheld. Doesn’t matter what you think or say. You can throw out your sovereign dogma, your trilateral conspiracies, or whatever secret squirrel stuff you read on the prepper website yesterday; but none of it matters. You will be on the wrong side of the table. I’ve seen everyone from an 18 year old star student athlete with his first psychotic break, to a seasoned 35 year old Navy SEAL locked up. It ain’t pretty. The solution to these problems is complex and IMO there is zero room for simple, weak minded, one shot answers. Regardless of which side of the argument it comes from. You want to preserve our rights, for Pete’s sake, do some research. Employ some critical thinking skills.

    Reply

    • Kirk B Mullins

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      Thank You for your insight into this matter. I have never been involved with someone being committed. However, I know people that have worked in hat field & heard some of the horror stories. I agree the DTS & DTO are the standard in which committal should be determined. Not just having a mental illness. I think we all suffer from insanity when we do the same old things & expect different results. We can’t expect the government to stop infringing on our rights on it own accord. It takes action, and at times very direct action. Jefferson warned us that as a last resort we should take up arms against a tyrannical government. It seems we are getting ever so close to that point.

      Reply

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