Gun violence and access to mental healthcare

By From page A5 | April 24, 2013


A major focus of the effort to reduce senseless acts of gun violence is to make certain that individuals who might pose a danger because of mental illness do not have access to weapons. I wholeheartedly agree with this effort.

There are several circumstances under which mental health patients in California lose their right to purchase and possess firearms. These are specified in the California Welfare and Institutions Code, sections 8100 – 8108 and include:

• People involuntarily detained for 72 hours for inpatient psychiatric evaluation and treatment as a danger to self or others
• People court certified for 14 days for intensive psychiatric treatment
• People on a mental health (or LPS) conservatorship
• People making threats of physical violence
• People found by a court of any state to be a danger to others, who are mentally disordered sex offenders, found not guilty by reason of insanity of any crime, and who are incompetent to stand trial.

But, research has shown that mental illness by itself is not statistically related to committing acts of violence, and that people with serious mental illnesses are far more often the victims of violence, not the perpetrators. Whatever one’s opinion is of gun ownership, we must not let legitimate concerns about gun violence become the reason why someone avoids seeking much needed mental health treatment. As a practicing psychologist in our community, I am troubled that many people believe coming for treatment will cost them their right to own a gun. Unfortunately, the fear of being labeled as “mentally ill” for seeking professional help and thereby losing the right to own a firearm can prevent people with mental health problems from getting the help they need and deserve. This is a concern we must take seriously and address in a straightforward, honest manner without political hyperbole. We must clarify how and by whom the identification of the mentally ill is performed, where and by whom such information is stored and who can access and use the information. We must guarantee that such confidential health information does not jeopardize any individual’s ability to obtain health insurance, credit, employment or, when legal, a firearm.


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