*This is a flashback Friday Post from my old blog, first published 17th Feb 2017*
The topic of mental health and the right to own a firearm has come up a bit recently, there have been a few deep conversations on Twitter and I was listening to the Jamoalki VS the second amendment episode 19 on the “Depressed Not Dead” podcast the other day regarding his fight to NOT be allowed to purchase a weapon. This has made me realize just how differently our two countries view gun laws.
Here in Australia the laws around gun ownership are very strict. You are only allowed to own a gun if you have a specific “genuine” reason that falls into select categories. You must do a firearms safety course before you can get your licence and then keep any firearms locked in approved “safe storage” with ammunition stored in a separate locked box. Only the licensed owner of the weapon is allowed access to the safe storage place.
Hand guns are a very special class of license, automatic and semi-automatic weapons are not permitted at all and above all else firearms are not, for any reason whatsoever to be used for self-defense.
As land owners, my husband and I applied for our gun licenses a few years after we bought the farm, our applications falling under the ‘genuine reason’ of needing to control vermin such as foxes and wild pigs.
Now as an animal lover, I had no intention of actually murdering any living creatures, I only really applied because that way Hubby (who was quite content to dispose of nuisance foxes) and I could both have legal access to the gun safe and I could do a bit of target shooting and purchase bullets etc for him which is more practical as he hates going to the shops if he can avoid it.
At the time I first applied for my license my mental illness was very much present but remained undiagnosed. There are boxes that you have to tick on the license application form regarding criminal or psychiatric history including questions asking if you are receiving any treatment for a mental health condition, if you have been hospitalized for a mental health condition or if you have suicidal ideation or have attempted suicide.
I knew that answering yes to any of those questions would mean that my application would be denied. I had been suffering from bouts of suicidal depression and hypomania for well over 10 years but at that point I was still heavily denying my illness, I had never had professional treatment or official diagnosis and nobody could prove anything, so I simply lied and ticked “no”.
After paying a fee I was of course granted the license I didn’t need and probably shouldn’t have, for an initial term of five years. Hubby, through a long comedy of technical paperwork errors was denied his license. Because he immigrated from overseas and his Citizenship Certificate was granted when he was a minor, he was listed under his father’s name which meant it was apparently “not valid ID for these purposes” and he didn’t have a current passport to use instead.
He was told to obtain a new passport and then reapply after 6 months. The ID he needed to get the passport WAS THE CITIZENSHIP CERTIFICATE. *Sigh…* By this point Hubby was just cranky with the ridiculousness of the system and couldn’t be bothered retaking the safety course and reapplying.
I never did buy a gun because I had no intention of shooting anything except myself and when my depression flared to suicidal proportions again and I wanted one, the rigmarole of actually purchasing a firearm was way beyond my exhausted mental capabilities at the time.
There are forms for intention to purchase the specific gun, application fees, somehow secretly coming up with the money to pay for the gun itself, the “safe storage” inspection by the local police department prior to receiving the gun. Then I would have to find somewhere big enough to hide it from hubby and the kids (remember these aren’t hand guns).
Besides gunshots are messy, I didn’t want to be found that way; it was much easier to overdose. When I was eventually admitted to a psych ward they went through my wallet, the nurse found my firearms license and immediately tensed up and demanded to know if I had access to any guns on my property.
Answering “sadly no..” got me a raised eyebrow but she must have believed me and not looked into it further as my license was never revoked. During my lowest periods the temptation to go through the red tape to buy a gun was outweighed by the fear that a black mark would come up against my name and I would be stopped and questioned about my motives. I didn’t want to end up back in hospital so I didn’t pursue it.*
My personal opinion is that a person who has had a diagnosed mental health condition’s right to own a firearm should be assessed on a case by case basis rather than a blanket ban, after all someone who had a suicide attempt at age 18 but no further mental health issues and is now 50 would be far less of a risk than someone like myself who is still frequently cycling in and out of depression with a recent history of attempted suicide.
**I received a letter a few days ago stating that my firearms license is up for renewal soon and a form with those familiar boxes to tick, I was surprised it came at all, gosh that five years went fast. Against my better judgement I filled out the form, lied in the appropriate sections and posted it off rather than just letting it lapse the way I should have.
The question now is will my form be taken at face value or will a little blip show up on a computer somewhere stating that I have a diagnosed mental illness, have been involuntarily committed to a psychiatric facility for attempted suicide and am no longer permitted to hold a firearm. Just how good are their system safeguards? I guess I will have to wait and see.
*The information about me having a firearms license was never passed on by the hospital to my psychiatrist or primary care GP – I mentioned it in passing to my psychiatrist years later and she was shocked and horrified that nothing had been done about it at the time nor had she been notified.
**I sent back the renewal forms and they approved them without question, all I had to do was go into the licensing office pay a small fee and have a new photo taken within a certain timeframe. In the end I chose not to go into the office and my time limit expired.