In wake of the recent mass shootings in Atlanta and Boulder, gun violence has once again become a hot topic; citizens and legislators alike are seeking any avenue that will end the senseless violence and help prevent these calamities in the future. One option is instituting mandatory mental health checks when purchasing a firearm. The scope of those who should receive mental health checks for firearm purchases should be limited to individuals who suffer from severe mental illnesses. Mental health checks should be limited because most people who suffer from severe mental illness are more prone to violent outbursts. Mental illness can appear at any point which makes a mandatory examination almost pointless, and mandatory mental illness checks are only an obstacle that will only perpetuate feelings of discomfort.
Mental illnesses are quite common, but their effects can vary drastically. According to the National Institute of Health, roughly 20 percent of Americans suffer from some sort of diagnosable mental illness; however, what falls into that category could range from a mild case of generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) to a severe case of paranoid schizophrenia. These examples are not brought up with the intention of minimizing the struggles of anyone who suffers from GAD, but instead to acknowledge the wide scope of what can be defined as mental illness. The National Institute of Health also reports that only about five percent of adults possess a mental illness that impairs their ability to operate in society. It should be generally agreed upon that those who fall into this category should not be able to purchase a firearm. There is simply just too much of a risk involved because severe mental illness is an unpredictable entity capable of many dangerous things. Conversely, it is not reasonable to suggest that someone who suffers from the occasional anxiety attack should be denied the benefits of purchasing a firearm.
Furthermore, mental illness can appear and disappear without much of a warning. There is no definitive age or time period when mental illness is observed. In a report by the National Institute of Health, it is noted that the age of onset (AOO) for anxiety can occur at any point in someone’s life. Illnesses may be genetic, coincidental, or the result of an injury, so the development of a mental illness is not predictable. It is entirely possible that someone passes the mental health check during the purchase of the firearm and develops a mental illness later in their life, rendering the initial examination useless. Mental health checks would help prohibit certain individuals — such as those in the aforementioned five percent of people who suffer from severe mental illness — from being able to purchase a firearm, and we would be safer because of it. However, if someone develops a severe mental illness after passing their initial mental health examination, then the risk of danger reemerges. The mental health examination might have prevented a violent crime for increment of time, but that safety is merely temporary and is more likely to disappear should somebody develop a serious mental illness.
In attempting to prevent gun violence by instituting mandatory mental health checks that include less-than-severe mental illnesses, people will be at higher risk to become victims of gun violence. In John R. Lott, Jr. ‘s book More Guns, Less Crime, Lott Jr. argues that more guns in the hands of lawful citizens leads to less criminal activity. He points out that guns in the hands of law abiding citizens will deter criminals due to increased risk to themselves. Moreover, Lott Jr. writes that possession of a firearm — most likely a concealed handgun — levels the playing field between women and men, as women would then be in a better position to defend themselves against assailants. If someone needs a firearm desperately, a mental health examination will only prolong the process and make a firearm more of a hassle to obtain. Ultimately, while mental health should be considered when buying a firearm, enforcing mandatory mental health assessments will do nothing but complicate the buying process and might put more law-abiding citizens at risk.
It is clear that those who suffer from severe mental impairments are high-risk individuals who should not be allowed to purchase firearms; assessments for those diagnosed with severe issues are clearly important. Mental health checks are an ineffective and dangerous policy considering the volatile nature of mental illness and the obstacles imposed on those who are healthy and desire to feel safe.