The Evolving Position of the American Psychiatric Association on Firearm Policy (1993-2014)

Behavioral Sciences and the Law, Forthcoming

Virginia Public Law and Legal Theory Research Paper No. 8

15 Pages Posted: 3 Feb 2015 Last revised: 13 Feb 2015

Richard J. Bonnie

University of Virginia - School of Law

Paul S. Appelbaum

Columbia University

Debra A. Pinals

Worcester State Hospital

Date Written: February 1, 2015

Abstract

Before the Supreme Court’s 2008 decision in District of Columbia v. Heller, the American Psychiatric Association’s position on gun policy reflected the strong gun control perspective championed by the nation’s public health establishment. After Heller declared that an individual’s right to bear arms is constitutionally protected, the APA refocused its attention on the specific aspects of firearm policy that implicate the interests and rights of persons with mental illness. Psychiatrists are mindful of the need to curtail firearm access by persons with mental disorders that elevate the risk of suicide or violence to others, but they are also opposed to stigmatization, discrimination and unfair treatment of individuals based on mental illness. Although civil commitment is an acceptable basis for prohibiting access to firearms, other adjudications of conduct indicative of elevated risk should also be included. Every state should provide a fair and reasonable process for restoring firearm rights after a suitable waiting period based on individualized assessment of whether the person remains at elevated risk. However, restricting firearm rights of persons solely on the basis of a diagnosis of a mental disorder or voluntary treatment, whether inpatient or outpatient, discourages treatment and would be counterproductive.

Suggested Citation

Bonnie, Richard J. and Appelbaum, Paul S. and Pinals, Debra A., The Evolving Position of the American Psychiatric Association on Firearm Policy (1993-2014) (February 1, 2015). Behavioral Sciences and the Law, Forthcoming; Virginia Public Law and Legal Theory Research Paper No. 8. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2559944 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2559944

Richard J. Bonnie (Contact Author)

University of Virginia - School of Law ( email )

580 Massie Road
Charlottesville, VA 22903
United States

Paul S. Appelbaum

Columbia University ( email )

NY State Psychiatric Institute
1051 Riverside Drive, Unit 122
New York, NY 10032
United States
646-774-8630 (Phone)
646-774-8633 (Fax)

Debra A. Pinals

Worcester State Hospital ( email )

305 Belmont St.
Forensic Services
Worcester, MA 01604
United States
(508) 368-3535 (Phone)
(508) 363-1506 (Fax)

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