Mental Illness and Firearms

The House Republicans voted to strike down an Obama administration rule which kept those with severe mental illness from purchasing firearms, to protect their rights afforded by the constitution.  This is a tricky issue, and while this is not a political blog, I do feel it is an important topic of discussion.

I am honestly very torn on this issue, so I am going to talk about it from both sides.

Pro strike down:

Mental illness is, as the name implies, an illness.  There are laws protecting people with illnesses and disabilities, such as having wheelchair accessible entrances and exits.  Keeping a group of people from buying a firearm, despite the rest of the country having the right to do so, is discriminatory against the mentally ill.

In addition, by having a restriction on the mentally ill buying firearms, the stigma of mental illness is reinforced.  Someone may decide against seeking treatment because they feel that if a right is taken away due to receiving help, that society is judging them.  Another issue would be if someone who was an avid gun rights advocate truly enjoyed having guns and had been safe with them in the past.  They may not want to risk losing that right, and therefore suffer through their mental illness, or be more likely to commit suicide because they did not seek help.

Another thing that is important to note is that most suicides are very impulsive and not everyone who commits suicide is mentally ill.  There is a significant amount of suicides that occur by firearm in which the individual is in an acute crisis, oftentimes financial.  Usually in these cases alcohol is involved.

Against strike down:

In the United States, 13.4 people out of 100,000 commit suicide each year.  Of those 13.4, 6.7 of those suicides are by firearm.  In addition, suicide accounts for more than two-thirds of the average 32,000 firearms deaths in the US each year.

Firearms are the most effective form of suicide attempt.  If a person were to overdose, for example, there is a time period where they can still be saved.  A gunshot to the head is usually fatal at impact.  So, if guns were no longer in the picture, lives could be saved.

The government already plays a role in saving lives, by setting speed limits, enforcing laws about carrying various types of weapons in public, and, in the case of mental illness, allowing the police to detain someone who is actively suicidal.  If it is a known danger to allow those with a mental illness to own a handgun, then is it societies right to protect them?


In my state, when an individual is confined to a psychiatric hospital or ward, they must sign a document stating that if they are hospitalized for 30 or more consecutive days, they will be on a list that is checked when legally purchasing firearms.  With insurance companies playing such a large role in the length of a hospital stays, it is exceedingly rare that someone will be hospitalized for as long as 30 days, so while this is an attempt at harm reduction, it is not particularly effective.

This issue is complex, and there are a lot more things lawmakers take into consideration than what I have explored here.  I purposefully did not touch upon the potential dangers to others in society if a mentally ill individual has access to firearms.  Every time there is a mass shooting, this is brought up by the news media.  It is a known fact, however, that someone with a mental illness is more of a danger to themselves than to others.  Regardless on where you stand in the debate of gun control vs. the 2nd amendment rights afforded by the constitution, I encourage you to think about gun control in relation to mental illness.


For more information about gun related suicides, visit the sources below:

The Trace


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