Firearm laws, patients, and the roles of psychiatrists

Am J Psychiatry. 2006 Aug;163(8):1392-6. doi: 10.1176/ajp.2006.163.8.1392.


Objective: Persons with mental illness and/or substance abuse are frequently perceived by the public to be dangerous. This has resulted in an increase in state legislation restricting their ability to purchase, possess, register, obtain licensure, retain, and/or carry a firearm of any sort. The purpose of this article is to educate clinicians about the impact of firearms statutes and restrictions for their patients. Many state statutes mandate that treating psychiatrists report such gun possession to state justice or police departments. Psychiatrists may also have a statutory role in an appeals process.

Method: The firearms statutes of the 50 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico and the Federal National Firearms Act were surveyed, with particular attention paid to the ability of persons with mental illness and/or alcohol or substance abuse to obtain firearms. The results were tabulated.

Results: These statutes are not uniform. They vary in their definition of mental illness, the type and duration of gun restriction, reporting practices, the confidentiality of medical information, and the immunity of clinician reporters and appeals processes.

Conclusion: Clinicians would be wise to familiarize themselves with the provisions of the relevant statutes in their particular states. This will allow them to identify the consequences to their firearm-possessing patients, understand their own roles and obligations -- if any -- and better consider potential clinical and ethical issues for particular patients.

MeSH terms

  • Dangerous Behavior
  • Data Collection / statistics & numerical data
  • District of Columbia
  • Firearms / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Forensic Psychiatry*
  • Humans
  • Licensure / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Licensure / standards
  • Licensure / statistics & numerical data
  • Mental Disorders / classification*
  • Mental Disorders / psychology
  • Physician's Role*
  • Psychiatry / standards*
  • Puerto Rico
  • Substance-Related Disorders / classification
  • Substance-Related Disorders / psychology
  • United States