I’m pretty sure you can guess where the folks at Bearing Arms come down on the idea, but just in case you have any doubt; there’s no way I could ever support requiring a mental health screening before anyone can legally acquire a firearm. In fact, the idea is so ludicrous that I’m surprised the folks at OnlineTherapy.com are pushing it. The website is touting a new online poll of some 1200 adults showing about half of all respondents say they’re on board with the idea, though the poll itself raises more questions than it answers.
Overall, 49% of respondents say the federal government should implement a law requiring a mental health evaluation for all firearm purchases, while 14% say they should only be required for automatic firearms purchases, and 15% only want them required for semi-automatic firearm purchases.
Nine percent of respondents do not support federal laws mandating mental health evaluations for any gun purchases, and 13% of respondents are undecided.
According to Clinical Counselor Danny Taylor, mandating such an assessment is the most rational first step in preventing a deadly weapon’s misuse.
“Requiring a mental health assessment is a crucial step in ensuring that the people who wish to own guns are in their healthiest frame of mind when they assume the responsibility of owning a weapon capable of causing great harm,” he explains.
Less than 10% of respondents say they’re not in favor of any kind of mental health screenings for would-be gun buyers? Yeah, I’m not buying it. The survey’s finding flies in the face of most other polls showing roughly half of Americans opposed to any new gun controls at all, but perhaps more importantly, the OnlineTherapy.com poll fails to ask some pretty important followup questions like:
- Who should administer the mental health screening?
- What mental illness should be disqualifying for gun purchases?
- What should happen to those individuals who don’t pass a screening?
These aren’t just hypotheticals. If there ever is a serious attempt to require mental health screenings for would-be gun buyers, every one of those questions is going to have be addressed beforehand.
Would it be the federal government doing the screenings? Would there be counselors set up at all gun stores to do a screening as part of the background check process, or would individuals have to visit a doctor and get pre-approval to exercise a constitutionally protected right before heading down to their local gun shop?
And what exactly would disqualify someone from purchasing a firearm? Would everyone currently taking an anti-depressant be barred from gun ownership, or would a ban on gun ownership be limited to those diagnosed with a “severe” mental illness?
Would there be any consequences for those who fail to pass a screening, besides being deprived of their right to keep and bear arms? Would that mental health screening serve as a basis for a 72-hour mental health hold or involuntary commitment, or would those who fail a screening simply be told they can’t buy a gun and be sent on their merry way?
Then of course there’s the fundamental question of “How do you do this without violating the rights of American citizens?” And yes, we are talking about a right here, though the folks that OnlineTherapy.com quote seem to believe that it’s actually a privilege.
When asked his opinion on requiring mental health tests before gun purchases, registered Republican, Robert Sollars, a workplace and school violence expert, said, “I believe that a mental health evaluation is a good idea, as long as it can be easily accomplished and done in a reasonable amount of time. It can help prevent tragedy.”David Reischer, attorney and CEO of LegalAdvice.com, also a registered Republican noted, “I am a lifetime Republican that believes in sensible gun laws. There is a natural tension between protecting the rights and liberties of the individual while also promoting the general welfare and common good of society as a whole. A reasonable gun law would require all gun owners to undergo a mental health evaluation.”
A study by Richard A. Van Dorn, PhD, of RTI International, and colleagues, for example, found that in a nationally representative community sample of 34,653 people from the National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions, 2.9% of people with serious mental illness had committed violent acts between 2 and 4 years following the study’s baseline, compared with 0.8% of people with no serious mental illness or substance use disorder. However, 10% of people with both serious mental illness and substance use disorder committed such acts during that time (Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology, Vol. 47, No. 3, 2012).