Can California Require Mandatory Psych Evals For Carry Permits?

Under state law, yes. Under the U.S. Constitution? Well, that’s more of an open question. On today’s Bearing Arms’ Cam & Co, my colleague John Petrolino joins me to discuss one of his stories from late last week involving the town of Murietta, California, where the police chief is requiring all those applying for concealed handgun permit to undergo a psychological evaluation before he’ll give his okay for them to carry. As the Murietta PD policy manual lays out:

The Chief of Police may, based upon criteria established by the Chief of Police, require that the applicant be referred to an authorized psychologist used by the department for psychological testing. The cost of such psychological testing (not to exceed $150) shall be paid by the applicant. The purpose of any such psychological testing is intended only to identify any outward indications or history of psychological problems that might render the applicant unfit to carry a firearm. This testing is not intended to certify in any other respect that the applicant is psychologically fit. If it is determined that the applicant is not a suitable candidate for carrying a firearm, the applicant shall be removed from further consideration (Penal Code § 26190).

Since Petrolino published his story, several Bearing Arms readers have come forward noting that other jurisdictions, including San Francisco County, may also require psychological testing for applicants, though it appears as if it’s not a mandatory part of the application process (it’s also largely a moot point in San Francisco, where only a handful of carry permits have been authorized in recent years). In addition to adding a cool $150 to the process of applying to exercise a constitutionally protected right, Murietta’s policy raises some serious questions about how exactly the process works.

As Petrolino notes, there’s no explanation on the police department’s website about what, if any, psychological behavior could result in someone being deemed unsuitable for a carry permit. One thing’s for certain, however: the policy does not merely follow state and federal law in stating that someone who’s been adjudicated as mentally defective forfeits their right to keep and bear arms. In this case, there’s no judicial finding at all, merely a psychologist who’s scored the results after an applicant takes the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory-2 test.

If you’re a regular reader here at Bearing Arms, you know by now that I am a firm believer in the need to do more with regards to mental health, but this ain’t it. In fact, I’m convinced that Murietta’s policy has a chilling effect on gun owners and would-be applicants, in large part because of the lack of transparency regarding the process. The MMPI test has been criticized in some quarters for racial bias, which is concerning enough, but thanks to California’s “red flag” law, applicants also have to worry that if the test determines they have some psychological issue, their police chief may not only decide to deny them a carry license, but seek to confiscate any legally-owned firearms as well.

So, there are plenty of reasons why would-be applicants may decide to simply not apply for a carry permit in Riverside County; the added cost of the test, a perception of racial bias in the test itself, and the fact that authorities might decide to go after an applicant’s ability to simply own a gun if they decide that the applicant is unsuitable to carry.

Unfortunately, California’s concealed carry laws have been upheld by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, and Petrolino says he’s not aware of any specific legal challenge to the mandatory psych evaluations in Murietta. Still, the Supreme Court is going to be hearing a challenge to New York’s “may issue” permit laws this fall, and if the Court concludes that New York’s statutes violate the Constitution, there’s some hope that the dystopian policies in Murietta, California could soon be a thing of the past, instead of a preview of the types of licensing requirements gun control activists would love to put in place across the United States.