In case you haven't heard enough from the Shrink Rappers on mental illness and gun legislation, I'm stealing a synopsis of the recent legislative changes from The Crime Report, a blog by forensic psychiatrist Dr. Erik Roskes. Taken verbatim, with permission of course:
On October 1, 2013, Maryland’s modified firearms safety law took
effect. Passed in the aftermath of the Newtown massacre, this law
expanded the group restricted from owning certain firearms. This blog
will focus only on the mental health aspects of the law, as I have no
claim to expertise outside the mental health arena.
Editor's Note: See an official report from Connecticut State's Attorney on The Crime Report here.
Until September 30, 2013, two classes of people were restricted from possessing regulated firearms:
(1) a person who “suffers from a mental disorder… and has a history of violent behavior against the person or another,” and
(2) a person who “has been confined for more than 30 consecutive days to a [psychiatric] facility.”
Effective October 1, 2013, a new law took effect, expanding and
modifying the classes of people restricted from possessing weapons for
reasons related to mental illness. Now, the groups include:
(1) a person who “suffers from a mental disorder… and has a history of violent behavior against the person or another;”
(2) a person who “has been found incompetent to stand trial” (IST);
(3) a person who “has been found not criminally responsible” (NCR – this is Maryland’s version of the insanity defense);
(4) a person who “has been voluntarily admitted for more than 30 consecutive days to a [psychiatric] facility;”
(5) a person who “has been involuntarily committed to a facility” for any period of time; and
(6) a person who “is under the protection of a guardian appointed by a
court…, except for cases in which the appointment of a guardian is
solely a result of a physical disability.”
It is important to note the following:
Importantly, criminals without mental illness are only restricted if
they have been convicted of specific “disqualifying crimes” or if they
have received a 2 or more year term of imprisonment for a common law
crime. This disparity regarding removal of weapons from offenders with
mental illness whose weapons would not be removed based on the crime
alone raises potential disability rights questions.
Thus, for example, category 1 requires no causal nexus between the
individual’s mental illness and his or her history of violent behavior.
Thus, a person with, say, an eating disorder and a history of fighting
during his or her adolescence would be subject to the restriction on
firearm possession. Conversely, the person with a history of multiple
fights, no mental illness, and no other disqualifying events (such as a
conviction for a violent crime) would be permitted to retain his (or,
less commonly, her) weapons. Where exactly is the logic here?
Categories 2 and 3 involve numerous defendants whose crimes
themselves might not be dangerous. In the hospital in which I work, the
modal crime for which people are committed as IST is trespassing.
While few people are found NCR for crimes that are not violent in
some way, there are some whose underlying offenses are non-violent.
Category 4 is especially concerning to those of us treating people
with mental illness, in that it targets patients who seek treatment
willingly, and who do not meet any of the other criteria for removal.
Thus, this restriction is imposed on people without any history of
violence or criminal behavior, and who have sought treatment of their
own accord. Essentially the restriction punishes the very behavior we
would wish to reinforce.
Category 6 is interesting in its leading to bizarre rules, such as the recent report in Iowa
regarding the ownership of guns by blind people. From where I sit,
this is simply a head-scratcher, making me wonder who is making
decisions on our behalf.
But most concerning for me is category 5, which was modified in the
section of the code regulating involuntary commitment to require the
hearing officer to determine if “the individual cannot safely possess a
firearm based on credible evidence of dangerousness to others;” if the
hearing officer so finds, he or she is to order the individual to
surrender any firearms to law enforcement. Note that no such finding is
to be made for individuals civilly committed only due to self-directed
dangerousness or suicidality.
According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, indicate there are over 19.000 firearm suicides per year in the US. By comparison, there are about 11,000 firearm homicides each year.
Based on research from the NIMH, at least 90% of those who commit suicide
(approx. 17,000) have the sorts of mental illness that could lead to
civil commitment. Research varies with regard to homicide, but for
discussion purposes, assume that as many as 10% (approx. 1100) of people
who commit homicide by firearm have mental illness. Simply put, for
every gun-related homicide committed by a person with mental illness,
there are approximately 17 gun-related suicides.
If the new Maryland law were to be applied nationally, we would be
potentially preventing a small number of people with mental illness from
committing homicide by firearm, while doing nothing to protect the
vastly larger number of people who might kill themselves with that same
As I have already written,
reactive gun laws do little more than assuage the public’s anxiety
about mental illness, without doing much of anything to actually protect
the public. It makes us believe that our elected officials and
appointed policy makers are doing something – anything – to make our
communities safer, without regard for whether the things that they do
actually will lead to positive results. From where I sit, the changes
in Maryland will do little to make our communities safer. With
apologies to a recent New York mayoral candidate, there are just too damn many guns.
--Erik Roskes, M.D.