Self Help Now: A community blog

Dr. Jacqueline B. Sallade offers ideas for maintaining your mental health.

Gun Control and Mental Health-Very Difficult

Written by Dr. Jacqueline B. Sallade, Community blogger | Feb 28, 2014 6:25 PM

I just heard Debbie Dingell say that's it's very hard to screen for mental illness when issuing gun permits. It's true. I've screened people for the police and security guard positions in the past. I've seen perpetrators and victims of gun violence. Sometimes, there's little difference on a test between the perps and the victims.

Most of the "big" tests, like the MMPI aren't logically related to the traits they supposedly measure. There are just patterns of responses which happen to correlate with certain personality characteristics or mental illness categories. Who knows why, even? I was warned against these tests in grad school. They're scored by computers, so why even use an experienced psychologist? Also, many tests are easily faked without getting "caught," such as tests for Depression. No one who wants a gun for work or protection, let alone for vengence or evil, wants to convey their upset and anger at themselves or the world. They can conceal those states, just like they can conceal a weapon.

In the end, it's about finding a qualified professional who's worked with lots of gun and non-gun users, lots of perps and victims and regular people, lots of mentally ill and mentally healthy people and everyone inbetween, which is almost everyone. Then, that person does what he/she would do for most evaluations of any sort. She looks at the person in a wide variety of ways, from interview to testing to references to life history, does a thorough analysis, takes a deep breath and makes an educated guess.

It is every psychologist's worst nightmare that the guess would be wrong and havoc would occur. So, he's better off guessing conservatively, cautiously, and denying a gun if in doubt. But, what if that person then would need self-defense and not have it? Maybe, the psychologist could counsel the person about the reasons for doubt, help the patient/client make progress and then re-evaluate. Maybe there could be such a thing as a learner's permit, supervision while carrying a gun, or gradual permission, like the gun may be picked up at a neutral site and used every other week, then more, then more, etc. I know it sounds ridiculous, but I simply don't know for sure how to guarantee that the gun won't get into the wrong hands, just that it's super important to try for that result.

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