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Mental Illness and Guns


8/1/2017

Mass shootings reignite discussions about guns and mental health; but, the truth is, mental illness alone accounts for only about 4 percent of interpersonal violence.  On a more frequent basis, mental illness plays a significant role in gun suicides, which account for more than half of the nation’s gun deaths. 

It is critical that anyone who suffers from mental illness has access to healthcare services to treat his or her disease. It is also critical that lawmakers put in place policies that make it more difficult for persons at greatest risk of violence to gain access to a firearm to harm themselves and others.

With support from the Joyce Foundation, the Educational Fund to Stop Gun Violence convened experts in gun policy, mental health policy, law enforcement and public health to explore the intersection between gun violence and mental illness. These experts agreed to form the Consortium for Risk-Based Firearm Policy, and in 2013 issued two reports offering state and federal policy solutions to help protect the public from gun violence. Guns, Public Health and Mental Illness: An Evidence-Based Approach for State Policy lays out a series of recommendations to reduce access to firearms by those at greater risk of committing firearm violence against themselves or others. 

The recommendations include:

  1. State laws should be strengthened to temporarily prohibit individuals from purchasing or possessing firearms after a short-term involuntary hospitalization. Concurrently, the process for restoring firearm rights should be clarified and improved.
  2. States should prohibit an individual’s ability to purchase or possess a firearm if that person has been shown to be at risk for dangerous behavior.
  3. States should develop a process that allows law enforcement officers to remove firearms from someone who poses a threat to themselves or others. Additionally, states should create a process to allow family members and partners to petition the court to authorize removal of firearms and temporarily prohibit firearm purchases and possession.

The Consortium’s recommendations have already been put to use. In August 2014, the California legislature approved a bill to create a gun violence restraining order (GVRO), one of the Consortium’s recommendations. The legislation gained urgency following the shooting in Isla Vista, CA this year, in which a young man with a history of mental health issues killed six people on and around the UC Santa Barbara campus. His parents had contacted authorities because of concerns about his dangerous and threatening behavior, but under existing law he was not prohibited from possessing firearms. The California bill allows family members and law enforcement officials to petition a court for an order temporarily removing firearms from persons who pose a heightened risk of violence to themselves or others. The legislation has been sent to the Governor. 

With a promising start in the spring and summer, the Ed Fund will conduct forums this fall in several states to continue to educate stakeholders about the Consortium’s recommendations. 

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