'Our Right to Own' Part 2: Mental health field reacts

Local - 2/20/2013 5:24 PM by Rebecca Turco
BECKLEY - After recent mass shootings, the debate continues over gun control and mental illnesses.

Therapist Hamlet Smith of Life Strategies in Beckley explained the term "mental illness" can include anything from mild depression and anxiety to bipolar and schizophrenia. Smith said a line would need to be drawn on what could be included in the background check.

But Smith explained including certain mental illnesses on background checks would not be an easy fix. Because of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, physicians are not required to send information about any mental behavior to federal authorities. So Smith explained it’s not only a gun control issue, but a privacy issue as well.

"I think it's something you've got to be very very careful on so that we don't erode gun rights in our society. But we also do need to take a serious look at the folks who have done a lot of these shootings have well established mental health problems. And so those are the kinds of folks you want to target early and provide them help. Safety from themselves.”

Smith also said people may be less likely to be honest about suicidal or homicidal thoughts if mental illnesses are included in background checks, which would potentially put the community at a greater risk. “In West Virginia, if they know or realize that their answers are gonna help take away their guns, they're gonna be less likely to be forward with information. So that creates a problem for us,” he said.

However, he said including mental health issues would screen more volatile people from owning guns. "If somebody is persistently delusional and violently aggressive, either homicidal or suicidal, then that should raise mental health flags for us all.”

But because each diagnosis represents a person and everyone is different, there is also a danger in excluding folks based on their mental condition. "The mental health community should be in talks with the political community and the legislative community to come up with some solutions that may help. But we want to really be careful about eroding our gun rights.”


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