There is a bit of a myth in the community that if you have a mental health problem, this automatically precludes you from owning a firearm. This is NOT true, as mental health problems are not a bar to firearms possession unless they give rise to a risk of self harm, or the risk of harm to others, or place you in a position where you are not in control of your firearms.
The mentally ill are amongst the least violent members in our community and it is only those forms of mental illness that lead to excessive aggression, or an individual being commanded to commit a violent act to themselves or another, that pose a risk to the community. Even then, as has been demonstrated recently in the United States and in Hobart in 1996, there is usually ‘smoke before the fire’ and mental health authorities fail to act upon it.
If you want to own a firearm, and have mental health issues there are a number of issues that you face.
Firstly, the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists does not support us, and has called for a ban on private gun ownership. Indeed, many psychiatrists have such a strong view against firearms that they refuse to do reports on people’s suitability to have firearms and, worse still, the personal view of some doctors affects their assessment in this regard.
Out of fairness to the psychiatric profession, another reason for psychiatrists’ reluctance to report on whether an individual should have access to a firearm is that psychiatry is a notoriously imprecise science, and people do not fit neatly into diagnostic boxes that enable them to predict their danger with any degree of certainty.
However, there are psychiatrists with a more positive view toward shooters and gun laws. A country psychiatrist in a matter that I handled a while ago described the laws as a curse, for they make it harder to get men into his surgery. This he believed, paradoxically, cost more lives.
At the time, there was a severe drought in the country area surrounding his practice, and a number of local farmers were committing suicide. The frustration to this psychiatrist was that he knew that if he could get the men into his rooms, provide medication and counseling and a sense of hope, he could alleviate suffering and save lives.
If you are a shooter and you develop mental health difficulties, I strongly suggest that you seek treatment but, before you do, I would make enquiries of the doctor to ascertain his or her views about firearms. The best you can hope for from the doctor should be a commitment to help you get your firearms back as soon as you are well. You should negotiate this before you see the doctor.
In an ideal world, the Firearms Registry and the treating doctor should consider that, where an individual has treated the condition responsibly, and sought early treatment, it suggests a willingness to act responsibly and seek treatment if the event of further difficulties. Unfortunately, the test applied by the Registry is one of there being just about no risk, and that standard is one that is difficult for any psychologist or psychiatrist to predict to, even when dealing with a so-called ‘normal’ person.
I note if you have mental health problems, and you do not admit to them at renewal time, and the Registry ever find out about this, they will consider you to be an unfit person to possess a firearms licence on the basis of the false declaration.
I shall cover another aspect of the injustice of firearms mental health laws in another article, this being the capacity of others to report us to the Registry with impunity.