Mental Health and Shooters - Part 2 The Loose Cannon
One problem that I have found is that Psychologists or Psychiatrists live in an imprecise world that is not at all black and white. This makes prediction of dangerousness difficult, and they will often as a result over predict dangerousness, or give vague responses in reports.
Whenever I request a report, I always ask the Psychologist or Doctor to cover the following questions:
a. Providing a summary of their relevant experience
b. The relevant history taken
c. Provide their diagnosis. Utilising the current edition of the DSM or ICD.
d. Whether they consider, from the view point of their speciality, the patient to be able to exercise continuous and responsible control over firearms.
e. Whether the patient has the ability to form a rational judgement or to exercise will power to control physical acts in accordance with rational judgement.
I provide the doctor with all relevant material that is available, because were I to do otherwise, it would immediately bring the shooter’s status as a ‘fit and proper person’ into question. I also like to be able to reassure the Registry that I have done so.
I also advise them that when preparing their report it should contain sufficient reasoning and details to support the opinion expressed, otherwise, little or no weight shall be given to it.
Because Psychiatry and psychology are fairly ‘woolly’ and imprecise professions, and reports often reflect this by being vague or inconclusive in the language used I always arrange a report on behalf of a client and ensure that it is sent to me before it is forwarded to the Registry.
The reason for this is that if it is sent directly to the Registry, not only will I not be able to see it without an FOI process, but registry staff will rarely in my experience ‘do the right thing’, and ring the Doctor concerned for clarification of a vague paragraph, and will simply read it strictly against the shooter.
If I get an opportunity to see the report before it is sent in, I always read it very carefully, and if necessary I engage in some damage control, and ring the mental health professional, with view to working through any ambiguity in a way that is professionally acceptable to the psychologist or psychiatrist, and request a supplementary report that removes the vagueness.
Here I might add, that such is the nature of mental health, that in many situations, the Doctor explains the vagueness, and unfortunately for the shooter, the imprecision has to stand.
One particular concern I have with Registries not divulging material, and allowing opportunity to comment upon material before a decision maker makes a decision, does not divest the individual of other rights and privileges as a citizen, namely a right to have an allegation put to you so that you can comment upon it before a decision is made, specifically natural justice.
Police in many Australian jurisdictions seem to labour under the delusion that the rule of law does not apply to them, and sadly, there is a lack of political will to bring their conduct into line.
One thing Registry staff need to take on board, is that the misinterpretation of a vague aspect of a report without making the effort to clarify it, can additionally lead to them actively discriminating against a person with a disability, a dispicable act.
IF YOU DEVELOP A MENTAL HEALTH PROBLEM WHAT DO YOU DO?
My duty of care comes to the forefront here.
If you become depressed and your depression is quite severe, or if you are ‘hearing voices’ or having suicidal thoughts, my advice is to lodge your firearms with a mate who holds appropriate endorsements, or with a dealer or with Police and go and see a Doctor and get some treatment.
The sooner you receive treatment, the better your prognosis may be.
You will need to advise the Registry, but when you do, a letter from a psychologist or psychiatrist, together with evidence that you acted responsibly about the incident, should assist you later on.
Even if we are unable to get your licence back, I have had clients who have taken up bow hunting in this situation, and who now tell me that, even if they were able to get their firearms licence back, they would not bother. Their enjoyment of their sport has taken off in another direction that they find even more rewarding.
If you need to see a Psychologist or Psychiatrist, it of the utmost importance that you ascertain their attitude to firearms before committing to treatment, so that if and when you return to health, you know that they will support you getting your firearms licence back.
I come across some situations where people seek attention, and threaten suicide or self harm.
Don’t do it. I guarantee that you shall get more attention than you ever thought possible, and of the wrong kind!
Faced with any utterance of the self harm, you are likely to find the local Mental Health Crisis Team involved and possibly face an admission to a psychiatric ward for observation, often Police are involved in the ferrying of ‘mentally ill’, and a screen check by Police of their system, will reveal to them that you are a shooter and thus by definition, a dangerous individual.
In addition to getting the full ‘One flew over the cuckoo nest’ experience, your firearms shall be seized, the Registry will also have no choice but to suspend your licence, and you shall have a fight on your hands.
You have been warned.
Simon Munslow is a solicitor located on the ACT/ NSW border. He has a lifelong interest in shooting, having acquired his first firearm at the age of nine, and has had an active interest in firearms law since writing a thesis on the topic over thirty years ago at University
Simon Munslow practices extensively in Firearms Law matters throughout Australia.
He is a regular contributor to the Australian Sporting Shooter magazine’s website on Firearms law matters, has published articles on firearms reviews and firearms law, and occasionally is asked to comment in the broader media on firearms matters.
He either appears in person, or ‘stage manages’ the conduct of matters that he arranges to be handled by local lawyers who often are not familiar with firearms law and procedure.
This article is written for general information only and does not constitute advice.
National Firearms Lawyer
P: (02) 6299 9690
F: (02) 6299 9836
He can assist you with:
Criminal law & Administrative law and in particular that related to Firearms
- All firearms & weapons charges
- Avoiding & setting aside Apprehended Violence Orders
- Possession of unregistered firearms
- Unsafe transportation & storage matters
- Applications for prohibited weapons
- License Appeals
- Freedom of Information / Government Public Access matters
- Importation & Customs problems
- Advices & opinions related to Firearms law matters