“Dangerousness” Should Guide Policy–not Mental Illness or Gun Ownership

From Psychiatric News Alert: About 8.9 percent of individuals who self-report as having patterns of impulsive angry behavior own guns, and 1.5 percent carry them outside the house, according to an analysis of the National Comorbidity Study Replication study. The study was posted online April 8 in the journal Behavioral Sciences and the Law.

Among those respondents, said Duke University Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences Jeffrey Swanson, Ph.D., and colleagues.

“Persons with impulsive angry behavior who carried guns were significantly more likely to meet diagnostic criteria for a wide range of mental disorders, including depression, bipolar and anxiety disorders, PTSD, intermittent explosive disorder, pathological gambling, eating disorder, alcohol and illicit drug use disorders, and a range of personality disorders.”

However, most of those people are legally entitled to own firearms because they have never been involuntarily committed to a psychiatric hospital. Reorienting public policy away from mental illness and toward dangerousness might reduce injury and death by firearms, the authors note. Current approaches to restricting gun access of people with mental disorders have no impact on most of this group, coauthor Paul Appelbaum, M.D., a professor of psychiatry at Columbia University, told Psychiatric News.

“We need to reorient our firearms policies toward limiting gun possession by people who lack behavioral control—for example, by taking guns away from people who behave in dangerous ways—rather than focusing excessively on people with serious mental illnesses, as we do today.”

For more in Psychiatric News about dangerousness as a standard for firearms policy, see “Violence Risk, Not Mental Illness, Should Guide Gun Access.” Also, see “Screening for Violence Risk in Military Veterans: Predictive Validity of a Brief Clinical Tool” in the American Journal of Psychiatry.

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