Gun Control and Mental Health [Podcast 517]

My special guest this week is Cheryl Todd of Gun Freedom Radio and AZfirearms.  Michael J. Woodland gives us some tips on practicing. And I am going to talk just a little about gun control and mental illness.  This show is sponsored by listeners at, and


Shout out to:

Dave Cole on the NRA article, Rack-it, and with their IndestructiBelt® SuperBio® Gun Belt that is water, dirt chemical and weather resistant
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Mental Illness

What are your thoughts about mental illness and gun ownership? It’s a highly contested issue that I haven’t seen addressed anywhere. I asked a professional I know that is in our community.

Research on the relationship between gun violence and mental illness shows that the vast majority of mentally ill individuals are not violent or suicidal.

In a society where guns are highly prevalent and the right to own them is constitutionally protected, solving a public health crisis that claims 35,000 lives every year (two-thirds by their own hand) is like a jigsaw puzzle. There are many causes of the problem, and many parts to an effective solution. Merely pointing the finger at “mental illness” will not solve this puzzle.

President Donald Trump quietly signed a bill into law Tuesday rolling back an Obama-era regulation that made it harder for people with mental illnesses to purchase a gun.

The rule, which was finalized in December, added people receiving Social Security checks for mental illnesses and people deemed unfit to handle their own financial affairs to the national background check database.

Had the rule fully taken effect, the Obama administration predicted it would have added about 75,000 names to that database.

This rule would require the Social Security Administration to forward the names of all Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefit recipients who use a representative payee to help manage their benefits due to a mental impairment to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS).

Licensed gun dealers are required to query the FBI’s federal background check system — The National Instant Criminal Background Check System, or NICS — to see if a would-be customer is banned from purchasing a firearm. If a buyer’s name is listed among those with disqualifying mental health records, the dealer is supposed to refuse the sale.

When I am in a room with people who are afraid of guns, there is always someone who will say that they are too crazy to own a gun.  I think they say that jokingly.  It’s not cute or funny to me.  I usually change my physical stance as a precaution instinctively.  That revelation should mean that they are mentally ill.  That is serious.  Here are some thoughts on gun control, mental illness and what gets put on the gun community because of it.

When you think about mental health and gun control, you might think of killers like Esteban Santiago in 2017 at a Fort Lauderdale airport, James Holmes in 2012 at the Century-16 movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, Adam Lanza in 2011 at Sandy Hook Elementary in Connecticut, Jared Loughner in 2011 in Tucson, Arizona, or Seung-Hui Cho in 2007 at Virginia Tech. All of these individuals experienced significant symptoms of mental illness. Some experienced serious symptoms such as hallucinations and delusions.

If we consider only these tragic examples, we might exaggerate the role of mental illness in violence and mass murder. Dylan Roof, Michael McLendon, John Allen Muhammad and Lee Boyd Malvo, Mark O. Barton, George Hennard, James Huberty, Charles Whitman and others did not display traditional signs of serious mental illness, though their actions were hardly normal.

Domestic terrorists, including Major Nidal Hasan and Timothy McVeigh also were not mentally ill in the legal or traditional sense.

Overall, persons with a serious mental illness account for only 3-5% of all violent acts. Going by the numbers, mentally ill individuals are 10 times more likely than the rest of the population to be victimized by violent crime.

Despite 96% of violence in the United States being committed by the non-mentally ill, when a mentally ill individual engages in mass killing, it generates gun control discussions from all sides. Some respond by wanting to increase gun control for everyone to try to keep guns out of the hands of the violently ill. Many argue for ensuring that all jurisdictions report involuntary psychiatric admissions to the NICS database. Social Security and the VA have or plan to report to NICS those who have others helping to manage their finances, although Congress is working to change this. Many in the gun community argue for restrictions intended to prevent violently mentally ill from having firearms. Many of us want decreased barriers so law-abiding citizens can more easily defend ourselves and our loved ones from violent attacks. Many of us also support allowing trained staff or police officers to carry firearms in targeted locations like schools.

Several states have increased mandated reporting requirements for mental health providers. New York requires mental health professionals to report anyone who “is likely to engage in conduct that would result in serious harm to self or others” to the state’s Division of Criminal Justice Services, which then alerts the local authorities to revoke the person’s firearms license and confiscate his or her weapons. California adopted a 5-year firearms ban for anyone who communicates a violent threat against a “reasonably identifiable victim” to a licensed psychotherapist. A bill “passed as a response to mass shootings” requires Tennessee-based mental health professionals to report “threatening patients” to local law enforcement. Many mental health providers are uncomfortable with laws like these, due to concerns that they may discourage people from seeking needed treatment.

Another way mental health relates to gun control discussions involves suicide.




We know that suicides have increased among military personnel and veterans. The VA reports that veteran suicides have increased 23% since 2001. The military and VA have been taking steps to address this crisis. For example, the VA expanded its crisis line, improved screenings, developed free mental health apps, provides telephone coaching for families of veterans, and is working with public and private partners to reach and support veterans,

Regarding the general population, the CDC found that since 1999, male suicide by firearm decreased from 62 to 55%. Female suicide by firearm went from 37 to 31%. Suicide by suffocation increased for both males and females by about 10%. While the proportion of suicides by firearm has decreased a bit, the overall rate of suicide has increased 24% since 1999, so it is a huge issue.

A number of public health researchers argue that increasing legislative gun restrictions is the way to reduce suicide by firearm. Pro gun-control activists use these suicide prevention recommendations to push for more gun control measures that would affect everyone. Naturally, most in the gun community resist these ongoing efforts. While the two sides grapple, focus is diverted from approaches that nearly everyone can agree on. Until now.

Last year, the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF)  partnered with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention on an education program for gun store and gun range staff, and gun show attendees. They adapted a project developed in New Hampshire and copied in a number of other states in which gun store owners were provided brochures and other resources designed to help them identify suicidal customers and provide basic assistance. The New Hampshire model brought together a wide variety of stakeholders, including gun store owners, mental health providers, and public health researchers. Massad Ayoob was a consultant. The materials were generally well received, although one feedback was that some gun store owners and customers mistrusted brochures from mental health researchers.

The NSSF addressed this concern by working with AFSP on developing gun-owner-friendly materials and branding them with the NSSF logo. In this way, NSSF hopes to increase the perceived credibility of the suicide prevention information.

AFSP piloted this new program in 4 states in 2016, but is now in the process of taking it nationwide.

To find out more, check out the link below. The brochure they are distributing to gun stores, ranges, and gun shows is also at this link.



  1. One in five American adults experienced a mental health issue
  2. One in 10 young people experienced a period of major depression
  3. One in 25 Americans lived with a serious mental illness, such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, or major depression
  4. Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States. It accounts for the loss of more than 41,000 American lives each year, more than double the number of lives lost to homicide. Learn more about mental health problems.


Myth: People with mental health problems are violent and unpredictable.

Fact: The vast majority of people with mental health problems are no more likely to be violent than anyone else. Most people with mental illness are not violent and only 3%-5% of violent acts can be attributed to individuals living with a serious mental illness. In fact, people with severe mental illnesses are over 10 times more likely to be victims of violent crime than the general population. You probably know someone with a mental health problem and don’t even realize it, because many people with mental health problems are highly active and productive members of our communities.



Fact 1: The vast majority of people with mental illness are not violent.

Here is what researchers say about the link between mental illness and violence:

Although studies suggest a link between mental illnesses and violence, the contribution of people with mental illnesses to overall rates of violence is small, and further, the magnitude of the relationship is greatly exaggerated in the minds of the general population (Institute of Medicine, 2006).


…the vast majority of people who are violent do not suffer from mental illnesses (American Psychiatric Association, 1994).


The absolute risk of violence among the mentally ill as a group is very small. . . only a small proportion of the violence in our society can be attributed to persons who are mentally ill (Mulvey, 1994).


People with psychiatric disabilities are far more likely to be victims than perpetrators of violent crime (Appleby, et al., 2001). People with severe mental illnesses, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder or psychosis, are 2 ½ times more likely to be attacked, raped or mugged than the general population (Hiday, et al.,1999).



While the gun control debate will likely continue for years – our lives – are worth taking seriously.


Thank you for listening and supporting the podcast.  What do you think of mental illness and gun control?


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