(PSYCHIATRIC TIMES) -- Firearms and Mental Illness
Donna M. Norris, MD and Marilyn Price, MD
Dr Norris is assistant clinical professor and Dr Price is clinical instructor in the department of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School in Boston. The authors report no conflicts of interest concerning the subject matter of this article.
The right of American citizens to own, register, and carry firearms has a significant history of federal and/or local regulation dating to the early 18th century. With the passage of the federal Gun Control Act of 1968, persons who have been treated for mental illness and/or substance abuse are among a defined group restricted from owning and carrying firearms. While violence is often portrayed in the media as related to persons with mental illnesses, there are limited research data to support this idea.
In the past several decades, US firearms legislation has followed high-profile instances of violent acts. The shootings of President Reagan and James Brady in 1981 resulted in the passage and implementation of the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act (1994). This Act provides for background checks for handgun sales and a 5-day waiting period. In addition, it provided the impetus for the establishment of the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS). With the NICS in place (voluntarily by the states), the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) can potentially receive information within minutes as to whether the purchase violates any federal or state laws.
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