Part III: The Current State of Laws Regarding Mental Illness and Guns

Part III: The Current State of Laws Regarding Mental Illness and Guns

Gun Rights

Contrary to popular narratives espoused in the aftermath of tragic events involving both firearms and mentally ill persons,1 many federal and state laws already exist that restrict access to firearms by mentally ill individuals. The relevant question is often not whether there are mechanisms in place to prevent people suffering from a serious mental illness who pose a danger to themselves or others from possessing firearms, but rather whether those mechanisms are being adequately utilized by the relevant authorities. Moreover, because mental illness is so transient in the lives of so many individuals—and because the vast majority of mentally ill individuals are not and will never become violent (especially when treated)—laws restricting fundamental constitutional rights must contain adequate due-process protections and refrain from using broad, over-inclusive prohibitions. To be more effective, laws regulating access to firearms by the mentally ill should focus on intervention and prohibition for specific individuals whose actions evidence that they pose a heightened risk of danger to self or others. States should also do everything practicable to increase the number and timeliness of disqualifying mental health histories reported to the National Instant Background Check System. These actions, however, should be taken with a view toward respecting due process and providing mechanisms for the restoration of an individual’s Second Amendment rights after he or she no longer poses a heightened risk of danger. Federal Law Provides a Minimum Level of Restrictions on Firearm Possession by Mentally Ill Individuals The principal source of federal regulation of firearms […]

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