Behavioral Science and the Law
Below is the abstract of a really important article, regarding gun control and mental illness. The authors found that almost 9% of firearms owners self-report impulsive angry dyscontrol (e.g., "I lose my temper and get into physical fights"; "Sometimes I get so angry I break or smash things"; "I have tantrums or angry outbursts"). Further, they found that less than 10% of these angry/high-risk for lethal violence gun owners had ever been psychiatrically hospitalized.
So, if you were trying to reduce gun violence by restricting gun ownership by prior psychiatric hospitalization, you would be missing a whole bunch of people. That's because the kinds of people who get psychiatrically hospitalized usually have serious mental illness, like schizophrenia or bipolar disorder. But only about 4% of serious violence is caused by people with serious mental illnesses. The rest is caused by angry guys with guns.
So the authors suggest a quite reasonable policy of restricting firearm possession based on criminal history: misdemeanor violence (e.g., assault and battery); DUIs; drug-related crimes; and, temporary domestic violence restraining orders. They recommend laws that allow the "preemptive removal of firearms from high-risk individuals," such as already exist in Connecticut, California, and Indiana. In Virginia, as in most other states, felons are already banned from owning firearms. I would rather see the criminals above lose their gun rights than to keep hearing about ineffective gun control policies that do little except stigmatize people with mental illnesses.
Guns, Impulsive Angry Behavior, and Mental Disorders: Results from the National Comorbidity Survey Replication (NCS-R)
Article first published online: 8 APR 2015
Abstract: Analyses from the National Comorbidity Study Replication provide the first nationally representative estimates of the co-occurrence of impulsive angry behavior and possessing or carrying a gun among adults with and without certain mental disorders and demographic characteristics. The study found that a large number of individuals in the United States self-report patterns of impulsive angry behavior and also possess firearms at home (8.9%) or carry guns outside the home (1.5%). These data document associations of numerous common mental disorders and combinations of angry behavior with gun access. Because only a small proportion of persons with this risky combination have ever been involuntarily hospitalized for a mental health problem, most will not be subject to existing mental health-related legal restrictions on firearms resulting from a history of involuntary commitment. Excluding a large proportion of the general population from gun possession is also not likely to be feasible. Behavioral risk-based approaches to firearms restriction, such as expanding the definition of gun-prohibited persons to include those with violent misdemeanor convictions and multiple DUI convictions, could be a more effective public health policy to prevent gun violence in the population.