Firearms and the Mentally Ill

Posted by on July 30, 2018 3:49 pm
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Categories: Column 1

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?


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.

This post originally ran on Cheaper than Dirt!‘s The Shooters Log.