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Let’s Talk About Firearms…

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*Disclaimer: First and foremost, let me make VERY CLEAR that I am not a lawyer, nor do I have a comprehensive, clear, and all knowing knowledge of the laws in the United States regarding this issue. I am not giving legal advice. This is opinion and anecdotal personal evidence*
Okay, good. Now that that’s done, let’s talk.

A little about what I AM.  I am a mental health professional in the fabulous Lone Star State (Texas). More specifically, I am a licensed counselor. I am 2A friendly, which seems to be really important to state in the South at least.Why am I writing this? Well, mainly because nobody else is. They won’t touch it. I get it. It’s a hard topic to talk about. Also, nobody wants to get sued for giving out the wrong information. (I plan on keeping this a living post- updating as I learn more.)For me, it’s important. I work with Texans (’nuff said), veterans, and first responders- all of whom take their second amendment rights seriously, y’all! I am writing this because I was asked to several weeks ago by a group of veterans who I hold dear. They’re fearful. I was indirectly asked by every patient who was ever afraid to answer a question about a firearm. And it keeps coming up in my therapy circles. There’s so much confusion and myth and I feel like we as mental health providers need to be clear, transparent, and honest about this. It’s our job to start the hard conversations. So, since nature abhors a vacuum, here I am- stirring the pot!As I said: I’m in Texas, so my focus will be there. However, I’ll try to talk more broadly where applicable.I grew up with firearms. I’ve been shooting since I was a toddler and I can field strip a pistol. I love the smell of Hoppes. It reminds me of cleaning weapons with my father. But I take my role as a guardian seriously. That means sometimes I have to make tough decisions. Sometimes, the law ties our hands. So- let’s clarify where the lines are since nobody seems to know.First and foremost- as far as I know, nobody’s going to come raid your house and take your firearms because you’re having a little bit of trouble in daily life. I feel like the big fear here is that you come in to see me- say you’re anxious and own a gun- I call some “ohmygod hotline” and the cops show up. NO NO and NO.

I feel like the media has a lot to do with this. I won’t delve into a statistics lesson but the problem is being made to appear dramatically more catastrophic than it actually is. “If it bleeds, it leads.” We all know that. Psychologically speaking, let me follow a bunny trail for a minute: mental filter and information bias. If you are even subconsciously fearful about something or aware that you’d like more information on a topic it will show up everywhere!  And you will see a heavier amount of information in the direction that you believe it falls. What’s my point? Well, we are in a very tough political climate and this is a hot topic. It feels like it’s everywhere. I’m speaking mostly about news outlets here, but also in fictional media- the “sicko” gets violent ideas, gets a gun, and does something horrible with it. Personally, I feel like it’s a weak plotline for some crappy writer, but I digress. (“Hell. I don’t know how to end this. Kill off the characters.”) It’s so unfortunate that in fiction, mental difficulties are equated with evil acts. THIS JUST IS NOT ACCURATE. The majority of people with mental illness are not violent. Usually, if they are, it’s predictable towards a target that has wronged them (who we have a legal duty to warn) or it’s aimed at themselves. Mass shootings are a whole other profile I won’t go into here, but you should remember that they’re still not as common as you’re led to believe. By it’s very nature, someone who has engaged in a violent act is probably not emotionally healthy- that’s a no brainer but CORRELATION DOES NOT IMPLY CAUSATION.  Murder goes up in the Summer but that doesn’t mean ice cream makes you kill. It’s the same principle. People who do messed up things have complex profiles.

So let’s talk about what our governing board, The Texas State Board of Professional Counselors, requires of us. It’s as simple and as complicated as this: you have a right to own a firearm (given that it is legal in whatever capacity in your state). You also have a right to be a human being with difficulties. There are FEW and STRICT instances in which we even care about whether or not you own one. As a general rule, mental health therapy is seen as a “liberal” field. So, many people believe that we are anti-gun. I haven’t looked up any stats on this so I don’t know any factual info about it, but I have yet to meet a counselor who goes out of their way to find out if you have weapons. Our political views are irrelevant in our treatment of you. We are governed by strict confidentiality rules and cannot break confidentiality, despite how uncomfortable it makes us.

So, When do we ask you about this?
Well, a lot of us won’t unless it becomes relevant. Usually, that’s when we’re doing what is called a “risk assessment.” That means that someone appears to be at risk for harming themselves or others and we want to know how safe they are. Owning a weapon still isn’t necessarily high risk if you have no plan to use it.
My general rule for myself is to bring up the tough stuff. Some of us even address this in our “informed consent.” You as a patient can be proactive by asking in your consultation with us- “What’s your stance on 2A rights?” We can probably settle whatever fears you have.

When are we required to report it?
If you come in for anxiety and happen to own a gun, not only is there nothing to report, but we can’t report you or we’re breaking confidentiality. However, if you state that you are thinking about killing yourself and that you have a gun and a plan to use it, we MUST break confidentiality. Not because you own a firearm, but because you have stated that you want to harm yourself. Even at this point, we simply refer you to a mental hospital for intake with this information. The police aren’t involved. The hospitals don’t call them either. The ONE time I had to call the police regarding weaponry was because a client threatened himself, didn’t show up, i felt he was at risk, and for his safety and the police’s I had to report that yes, there were firearms in the home. The police checked on him and went home. He still likes to shoot for sport.
We are required to report abuse, suicidal and homicidal risk, and have a duty to warn if there is a specific target. Your provider should go over the confidentiality with you and make it clear on your first visit. It’s VERY STRICT.

What happens if we report that you own a firearm?
As far as I know, not much. If you need an evaluation, you’ll be taken to a hospital for intake. If they feel that you are a risk to yourself or others, they’ll take you into custody until you’re safe. They don’t go to your house to collect your weapons. (A side note- again, the rules on committing someone are VERY strict. Usually, you have to sign yourself in and be at risk or seriously harming yourself or another person. To involuntarily commit someone takes quite a bit of risk.) We can’t call the Police if you have firearms and we’re nervous about it. At best we can try to talk to you about possibly putting them in a safe with someone else having the password until you’re safe.
The pattern here is that the mental health community addresses the risk by making sure that YOU are safe and supervised. Not your inanimate firearms. After the period of risk passes, we work with you and life goes on. The end.

What about all the stuff I’m hearing in the news? Rule number one: the media sensationalizes. There is NO WAY I can cover all the stuff the media is throwing at you. I can tell you this. In the state of Texas, the rules are VERY few. I actually didn’t know much about them until I looked them up. To summarize: If you have been found to be unstable or out of touch with reality and you apply for a firearm, they’ll deny you access. They don’t seek you out if you get diagnosed (how would they know?!) and wouldn’t that be a helluva confiscation if EVERYONE WHO EVER HAD A PROBLEM lost their rights?! They DO ask when screening for things like concealed carry or buying a firearm, but again, there are very specific categories regarding this. To declare someone mentally unstable TAKES A LOT.

So, what are the Texas Laws?
Per the National Conference of State Legislatures, Texas Code 411.172 states:
“A person is ineligible for a license to carry a concealed weapon if the person:
(1)  has been diagnosed by a licensed physician as suffering from a psychiatric disorder or condition that causes or is likely to cause substantial impairment in judgment, mood, perception, impulse control, or intellectual ability;
(2)  suffers from a psychiatric disorder or condition described by Subdivision (1) that: (A) is in remission but is reasonably likely to redevelop at a future time; or (B) requires continuous medical treatment to avoid redevelopment;
(3)  has been diagnosed by a licensed physician, determined by a review board or similar authority, or declared by a court to be incompetent to manage the person’s own affairs; or
(4)  has entered in a criminal proceeding a plea of not guilty by reason of insanity.

The following constitutes evidence that a person has a psychiatric disorder or condition described by section (1), above:
(1)  involuntary psychiatric hospitalization;
(2)  psychiatric hospitalization;
(3)  inpatient or residential substance abuse treatment in the preceding five-year period;
(4)  diagnosis in the preceding five-year period by a licensed physician that the person is dependent on alcohol, a controlled substance, or a similar substance; or
(5)  diagnosis at any time by a licensed physician that the person suffers or has suffered from a psychiatric disorder or condition consisting of or relating to:
(A)  schizophrenia or delusional disorder;
(B)  bipolar disorder;
(C)  chronic dementia, whether caused by illness, brain defect, or brain injury;
(D)  dissociative identity disorder;
(E)  intermittent explosive disorder; or
(F)  antisocial personality disorder.”

Let’s break this down.

I’m going to point out the important words.

A person is ineligible for a license to carry a concealed weapon if the person:
(1)  has been diagnosed by a licensed physician as suffering from a psychiatric disorder or condition that causes or is likely to cause substantial impairment in judgment, mood, perception, impulse control, or intellectual ability 
so what does that mean?

Well, first of all it knocks out most psychological problems. You have to have SUBSTANTIAL IMPAIRMENT, which legally is defined as ” one that prevents or severely restricts an individual from doing activities that are of central importance to most people’s daily lives and that is permanent or long term.” In English, this means that if you can go about your daily life and function like a normal human being, you don’t fit that definition. If you can live your life, control your impulses, and think at an appropriate intellectual level, even if you are diagnosed, you should be fine. (Again, a reminder that this is as I understand the wording and *I am not a lawyer*)

suffers from a psychiatric disorder or condition described by Subdivision (1) that: (A) is in remission but is reasonably likely to redevelop at a future time; or (B) requires continuous medical treatment to avoid redevelopment;

So, basically, it has to be a LONGSTANDING ISSUE that has not been relieved or cannot be relieved permanently.

So, so far, you have to have a significant impairment with a longstanding issue that cannot be relieved. Do i even have to tell you how rare this is? Does it happen? Sure, but only in the most severe of cases.

has been diagnosed by a licensed physician, determined by a review board or similar authority, or declared by a court to be incompetent to manage the person’s own affairs; or
(4)  has entered in a criminal proceeding a plea of not guilty by reason of insanity.”

This one is somewhat self explanatory. If a court declares you mentally incompetent, you aren’t eligible to own a firearm.

The following constitutes evidence that a person has a psychiatric disorder or condition described by section (1), above:
(1)  involuntary psychiatric hospitalization;
(2)  psychiatric hospitalization;
(3)  inpatient or residential substance abuse treatment in the preceding five-year period;
(4)  diagnosis in the preceding five-year period by a licensed physician that the person is dependent on alcohol, a controlled substance, or a similar substance; or”
This one’s a little trickier for me. It says “psychiatric hospitalization.” I’m going to do more research on that one and talk to a lawyer I know, but I will tell you, I used to work inpatient and NEVER did I EVER see these people have their homes searched, weapons seized, etc.” From my understanding, they don’t seek this out- it’s my impression that this is more here for if they’re trying to get someone who fits the other criteria. I’ll just be honest and say I don’t know about that one- but in my experience voluntary psychiatric hospitalization doesn’t mean you lose your rights. I’ll get back to you on that one.  As for the rest
the main words are INVOLUNTARY. Meaning, you had to have been involuntarily committed. THAT IS SO HARD TO DO! If you’re to that point, that’s a problem. Also, apparently, if you’re addicted to the point that you’ve needed residential treatment. I’m thinking that here, they feel that addiction speaks to poor impulse control.

Now, don’t panic.

Keep in mind that there are several parts here. So, we have 1) substantially impaired AND 2)long term unrelievable problem AND 3) involuntary commitment AND 4) inpatient treatment for addiction (and poor impulse control) What do I mean here? THERE ARE MULTIPLE CRITERIA that have to be met here. If you’re an addict, but it’s been relieved, it doesn’t appear that you’re in trouble. If you’re someone who was hospitalized but can function normally, it doesn’t appear that you’re in trouble. Get it?

diagnosis at any time by a licensed physician that the person suffers or has suffered from a psychiatric disorder or condition consisting of or relating to:
(A)  schizophrenia or delusional disorder;
(B)  bipolar disorder;
(C)  chronic dementia, whether caused by illness, brain defect, or brain injury;
(D)  dissociative identity disorder;
(E)  intermittent explosive disorder; or
(F)  antisocial personality disorder.”

So, here’s where it gets a bit trickier. What do all of these diagnoses have in common? REALITY TESTING and IMPULSE CONTROL. Delusions are a problem. You can’t have a firearm if you can’t tell your visions and fantasies from reality. So that would include schizophrenia, dementia (which also comes with agitation and judgement errors) and dissociative identity disorder (you probably know this as “multiple personality disorder”). As for Bipolar, again- I’m not a legal expert, but it’s my impression that this is in conjunction with the whole picture.
Example: Someone who is diagnosed bipolar but under control with medication, under care, and able to go about daily life is probably okay. Someone who is diagnosed bipolar and meets the criteria set here of substantial impairment with longstanding unrelieved issues and severe impulse control, maybe not so much. I know plenty of people diagnosed as bipolar who own and enjoy firearms and are no danger to themselves or others.

Antisocial personality disorder is a special one. You may think of this as psychopathy. To be clear: they are NOT synonyms, but they are often co-occurring. Someone with APD has zero regard for laws, social rules, and no empathy. They are also VERY impulsive. So, sorry, that one is a no go.

Another aside: this statute states that you have to be diagnosed by a licensed physician, which is interesting to me. That means an MD, or Medical Doctor. So, any of your primary care and psychiatrists. I DO NOT KNOW if social workers, licensed counselors, life coaches, etc are clustered into this language legally or not, but I know that I’m not a licensed physician.

Here’s the thing: even if you DO have one of these diagnoses, it only comes up in firearms screenings, which we have nothing to do with. Also, there are multiple, very strict criteria to meet. It seems you’d have to be on someone’s radar before this could really be exercised. We don’t have a database that we report to. We report to your insurance company for billing, you, and any providers that you give us permission to talk to. Outside of that unless we are subpoenaed by a court, we can’t discuss your diagnosis. We can’t even admit that you’re a patient!

I hope that this has helped calm some fears and clarify things for you. The bottom line is that it’s very rare and specific instances to remove someone’s 2A rights and it’s unlikely that they would get wind of your diagnosis on their own.
As providers, we just want to know that you and those around you are safe. That’s it. If you aren’t, we just want the threat to pass and for you to become safe and stable again. I would encourage you to have a frank and honest conversation with your provider. The more we talk about this, the less power it has.

Please, please, please do not let fear of losing your 2A rights prevent you from getting help.
It is very likely that you have nothing to fear!

If you want to look up your specific laws regarding your state here’s a link
(I will say the worst one I’ve seen is New York’s Safe Act, but since I’m in Texas I won’t touch on that here. Also, I’m not a lawyer so I’ll leave the specifics to them (or the New York mental health community) to answer.) https://www.ncsl.org/research/civil-and-criminal-justice/possession-of-a-firearm-by-the-mentally-ill.aspx