Mental Illness and the Argument on Gun Control Responsibility


  • The procedure for owning a gun requires one to state whether he or she has a mental history
  • The National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS).lacks enough information on those with past mental illnesses
  • There exist laws regarding patient confidentiality that hinder state officials from accessing medical records
  • Patients with mental illness who have successfully undergone treatment do not usually exhibit violent behavior
  • The American Psychiatric Association (APA), says that there are limitations in diagnosing some mental illnesses
  • The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services gives a very vague definition on mental illness
  • Gun possession gives one a feeling of safety
  • The 5th and 14th amendments hinder proper execution of gun laws



Mental Illness and the Argument on Gun Control Responsibility

            According to Kleck, (2005) the issue of mental illness has crossed people’s minds on more occasions than indicated. Each person who has ever attempted to buy or own a firearm is aware of the question on ones mental situation that is on the national gun purchasing application forms. The question on the federal forms questions one whether has ever been declared mentally by a qualified medical practitioner? I would believe that majority of the respondents answer ‘no’ to this question.

The general agreement is that people who have a mental dysfunction history ought not to be given the authority to own firearms. Those who deal with guns, they assume that the answers provided by the potential gun owners are verified by the local authorities. The irony of the matter is that the local authorities have no system of verifying the authenticity of the information provided in the questionnaires (Kleck, 2005).

The United States congress, (2009), admitted that the only dependent verification is the one that the federal conducts concerning the potential gun owner’s criminal record. The records concerning criminal history are usually up to date and can be depended upon. However, the records pertaining to the mental history of the potential gun owner can be guaranteed on as accurate and updated. The normal procedure entails a prospective firearm owner filling up the federal or state application form. The seller then requests the state authorities to verify the potential owner’s criminal history through the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS).The United States of America has quite a large number of citizens who have been taken into mental institutions without their own volition. The National Instant Criminal Background Check System has only a small number of these individuals who have been committed into mental institutions. Out of all the states that make up the United States of America, only seventeen of these that have those who have been forcefully committed into mental intuitions included in the National Instant Criminal Background Check System. The other states lack a well-detailed computerized record of those who have been involuntarily taken into mental institutions. There is also the issue of patient confidentiality that makes it nearly impossible to volunteer medical records to state authorities (Congress, 2009).

Davey, (2010) highlights that the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act deny access of medical information concerning patients to non-medical personnel. The only authorized persons to access the medical information are the medical practitioners, health insurance personnel, those who work in the quality control. Due to these limitations, sheriffs have the tedious task of perusing through courthouse orders for evidence of any involuntary commission into mental institutions. The method is not 100% reliable as it is unlikely to come up with all the cases involving involuntary commission into mental institutions. The local authorities deny access to firearms to persons who have been involuntarily committed into mental institutions. There are however professional boards such as those in the mental health profession who deny any valid foundation to this law. They usual argue that past mental medical history ought not to be used to bar civilians from buying and owning guns. This is because mental illnesses are not usually recurrent when treated well thus they do not indicate that the person will exhibit acts of violence in the future (Davey, 2010).

The American Psychiatric Association, (1997) indicated in a survey that showed that those who had been successfully treated and released from mental institutions had less chances of exhibiting violent behavior even after eight years than the general population. The study by MacArthur Foundation showed that violent rates were similar for those who had mental history and those who have been always considered sane.

The prohibition of those who have a mental history for buying and owning firearms however, is not a sure way of barring the potentially violent and dangerous citizens from owning firearms. Persons who suffer from serious mental infirmities like Schizophrenics, severe manic-depressives and other potentially individuals according to the current procedures can acquire firearms. This is because such ailments are not easily diagnosable (American Psychiatric Association, 1997).

The American Psychiatric Association has admitted in a statement that it is nearly impossible to accurately predict or diagnose some mental cases. Schizophrenics and others with similar medical ailments are not easy to diagnose, as they tend to cover up the symptoms. This makes them able to fill out the gun control forms positively to acquire guns. When such characters are endowed with the ability to own firearms, they are more potentially susceptible to becoming violent criminals. The suggestion of barring people with a history of mental illness to be barred from owning firearms is baseless argument, as there are no comprehensive ways and procedures of barring such characters from accessing guns. Psychiatrists and other medical personnel lack the skill to diagnose such cases. There is also the controversial fact made by a former U.S. Surgeon General who gave records estimating that about a fifth of the total population of Americans are potentially suffering from some type of mental illness (Gough, & Cooper, 2003).

Stanhope and Lancaster, (2006) identified that another issue is the vague definition of mental illness by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services the department defines mental illness as “mental illness is any diagnosable, behavioral or emotional disorder that interferes with or limits a person’s ability to live, work, learn and participate fully in the community.” There is more vagueness in the understanding of mental illness as some non-governmental organizations and institutions even classify cigarette smoking and coffee drinking as mental disorders. This makes it incomprehensible to declare who is mentally ill and who is not as a large number of citizens do fall under this category. There is a general notion that if all those who are deemed as mentally unstable are barred from the ability to purchase and own firearms, then many non-violent individuals would be prone to violent acts innocently (Stanhope, & Lancaster, 2006).

Jimerson and Furlong (2006) have highlighted that many firefighters and police officers who respond to calamities and disasters confess to being scared for life after coming from such scenes. They also exhibit symptoms considered those of mental ailments such as post-traumatic stress disorders. Persons who have lost their loved ones through calamities and disasters often undergo through extreme anguish a symptom for mental and emotional dysfunction. Barring all these persons from possessing firearms because of them being classified as mentally dysfunction is a grave injustice to them, as many do not pose any violent character. Thus, they do not pose any sort of harm to the society. They should be allowed to purchase legally firearms, as they do not pose any threat to the public. Giving them access to firearms would be of much benefit, as the feeling of safety that often comes with owning firearms would probably go along in helping overcome the emotional deficit (Jimerson, & Furlong, 2006).

Carter, (2002) shows that there are also constitutional issues that are raised whenever there is the issue of barring a particular group of citizens from owning firearms. This includes The Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments. This two defend the rights of the citizens from having any of their rights violated without due procedure. Recent medical advancements have made it possible suffering from mental disorders to have full recovery. Denying them access to firearms would be unfair, as these would leave them to violent attacks when all other persons are endowed with the right to possess a firearm. Occurrences of violent behavior by such are a very rare occurrence as compared to those who are deemed healthy mentally (Carter, 2002).



American Psychiatric Association. (1997). Violent Behavior and Mental Illness: A Compendium of Articles from Psychiatric Services and Hospital and Community Psychiatry. New York, NY: American Psychiatric Pub.

Carter, G. L. (2002). Guns in American Society: San Antonio, TX: A – L. ABC-CLIO.

Congress. (2009). United States Code, 2006, Supplement 1, January 4, 2007 to January 8, 2008. New York, NY: Government Printing Office.

Davey, P. (2010). Medicine at a Glance. San Antonio, TX: John Wiley and Sons.

Gough, V., & Cooper, D. (2003). Van Gogh on Art and Artists: Letters to Emile Bernard Genius of Vincent Van Gogh. New York, NY: Courier Dover Publications.

Jimerson, R. S., & Furlong, M. (2006). The handbook of school violence and school safety: from research to practice. London: Routledge.

Kleck, G. (2005). Point blank: guns and violence in America. New York, NY: Transaction Publishers.

Stanhope, M. & Lancaster, J. ( 2006). Foundations of nursing in the community: community-oriented practice. San Antonio, TX. Elsevier Health Sciences.


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