Firearms and Mental Illness
Federal Law Regulates Firearms
United States federal law regulates the possession of firearms under 18 U.S.C. § 922(d), which states that “it is unlawful for any person to sell or otherwise dispose of any firearm or ammunition to any person knowing or having reasonable cause to believe that such person has been adjudicated as a mental defective or has been committed to any mental institution.” Still, there are ways around this law, as private purchases of guns from unlicensed dealers occur frequently, with no background checks being completed. Also, suffering from a mental illness isn’t enough to bar gun purchases, unless that person has been hospitalized for their condition or is known to be a danger to society.
Also, mental illness is not always a factor for violence. In fact, there are only certain mental illnesses that increase a person’s risk for violence: schizophrenia, bipolar, other serious mental illnesses. Even more of an increased risk of violence are people who abuse alcohol and drugs. The National Institute of Mental Health conducted a study of 18,000 people, the Epidemiologic Catchment Area study.3 The results showed that persons without a mental illness who suffered from a substance abuse disorder were seven times as likely to commit violent acts than those who did not have substance abuse problems.3 While preventing people who do have serious mental illnesses from obtaining a gun may help decrease the number of mass killings, only four percent of the violence committed in the United States is done by persons who are mentally ill.3 It is an extremely difficult task to reliably predict violence—sometimes it cannot be done.3
Mentally Ill Don’t Always Resort to Using Firearms
Singling out mental illness may be treading in controversial waters, but the past few large mass shootings were at the hands of a person suffering from a mental illness.4 Adam Lanza, responsible for the Newtown, CT shootings, was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, not a normally violent disease, and the guns used were legally his mother’s. James Holmes, who murdered 12 people in Aurora, CO, sought help for a mental illness yet was able to legally purchase his firearms as his treatment didn’t warrant otherwise.4 Virginia Tech shooter Seung-Hui Cho was able to purchase his firearms because the state had not yet submitted his mental health records to the federal database.4 However, there are many people who suffer from mental illnesses that are minor, and they may be caught up in this argument if mental illness is a strict reason why firearms cannot be sold to people who suffer from the minor, nonviolent kind.4
 “Possession of a Firearm by the Mentally Ill.” National Conference of State Legislatures: The Forum for America’s Ideas Since 1975. National Conference of State Legislatures, n.d. Web. 24 Jan. 2013. <http://www.ncsl.org/issues-research/justice/possession-of-a-firearm-by-the-mentally-ill.aspx>.
 O’Connell, Vanessa, and Gary Fields. “Many Mentally Ill Aren’t Blocked From Buying Guns.” The Wall Street Journal. N.p., 12 Jan. 2011. Web. 24 Jan. 2013. <http://online.wsj.com/article/SB100014240527487045159045760762004
 Friedman, Richard. “A Misguided Focus on Mental Illness in Gun Control Debate – NYTimes.com.” The New York Times. N.p., 17 Dec. 2012. Web. 24 Jan. 2013. <http://www.nytimes.com/2012/12/18/health/a-misguided-focus-on-mental-illness-in-gun-control-debate.html?_r=0>.
 Young, Jeffrey. “Gun Control Laws Fail To Keep Mentally Ill Away From Guns.” The Huffington Post. N.p., 17 Dec. 2012. Web. 24 Jan. 2013. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/12/17/gun-control-mental-illness_n_2318421.html. Firearms.