Depression and Gun Ownership (A fatal link?)

In this article, we will talk about depression and gun ownership. We will discuss the statistics of gun ownership, the laws around depressed people owning guns, the harms related to it. We will also look at what can be done to overcome depression. 

Is there a link between owning firearms and depression?

Harvard School of Public Health did a study with 50 U.S. states to find a strong link between firearm ownership and suicides. 

A survey of American households conducted in 2002, found that in states where guns were prevalent rates of suicide were higher. The vice-versa situation was also true: the areas with a lesser number of suicides were areas where very few people owned guns. The numbers must be higher now given the increase in suicide rates across the world. 

The researcher from the above-mentioned study stated that most suicides are an act of impulse. An ease of accessibility of lethal weapons like guns during that period of impulse leads to riskier decisions. 

The main takeaway from studies like this is many lives could have been saved by simply not owning guns.

But, does death by suicide necessarily mean the person was depressed? No. 

Another research conducted in the U.S. on ‘Association of rates of household handgun ownership, lifetime major depression, and serious suicidal thoughts with rates of suicide across US census regions’ found that “Ownership rates of guns are not associated with rates of lifetime major depression. Ownership rates of guns are not associated with rates of lifetime serious suicidal thoughts. Rates of depression and suicidal thoughts cannot account for the handgun-suicide connection.”

In a gist, this study states that even though the suicide connection with gun ownership is valid, one cannot state that it was triggered by an underlying mental health condition. Nor does owning fire guns have any association with life histories of major depression or suicidal thoughts. 

This contradictory finding does not mean that gun ownership can be considered a good idea. The risk of depression leading to suicidal thoughts and an impulsive decision to take one’s own life is ever-present. Probably, the ease of access to firearms makes the decision-making process easier for a person thinking about taking the plunge.

Having said that, a stigma against mental illness and gun ownership should not be encouraged. A recent analysis of more than 200 mass killings revealed that only 22 percent of perpetrators could be considered mentally ill

Is it a one-way connection?

Turns out, no. Possessing guns at home can have an adverse psychological impact on family members in general, but especially on growing children and teens. 

Research published in the year 2017 stated that the rate of American adolescents growing in a house with gun accessibility has been highest in recent years. The study showed that gaining access to guns at home was significantly related to increased depressive symptoms among children of gun owners, even after accounting for both observed and unobserved individual characteristics. The observed association between in-home firearm access and depression was more pronounced for female adolescents. 

The role of mental health in gun procurement and ownership laws across nations of the world

In the U.S.A., The Gun Control Act of 1968 (GCA), a federal level regulatory body regarding firearms, states that legal residents of the USA who are 18 years and above can purchase shotguns or rifles and ammunition. For other firearms, like handguns, the age limit for acquisition is 21 years. Under 18 U.S.C. subsection 922(d), it is against the law for any person to sell or otherwise dispose of any firearm or ammunition to any person knowing or having reasonable cause to believe that such person “has been adjudicated as a mental defective or has been committed to any mental institution.”   

In the U.K., the laws are a little more strict. According to an English rifle and gun club legal center, possession of a firearm in the U.K is not allowed unless the person presents a Shotgun Certificate or a Firearm Certificate. To gain a firearm certificate, the applicants must be age 14 or above, and must be able to prove that they have a really good reason to own a rifle. Applicants must also declare all criminal convictions and name two references/recommendations to support their application for firearms procurement. The applications must also be renewed every five years. Citizens convicted of a criminal offense aren’t allowed to handle a gun for five years. If the sentence involved more than three years imprisonment, there is a lifetime ban. 

There are no laws related to mental health and gun ownership. The Home Office in the UK recognizes that depression is not an automatic bar to being granted a certificate and says so in its Guide: “12.29 The fact that a person has received treatment in the past for certain illnesses or conditions, such as depression or stress, does not make them automatically unsuitable to possess a firearm. It is one of the factors to be considered with all other evidence relating to the applicant’s character and history. In such cases, account should be taken of the latest medical opinion, and particular attention should be paid to whether this suggests if the condition is liable to recur.”

In Canada, gun casualty statistics are surprisingly low given that the ownership rate is comparatively high- 23.8 firearms per 100 people in the country. There is no legal right to possess arms in Canada. It takes sixty days to buy a gun there, and there is mandatory licensing for gun owners. Gun owners pursuing a license must have third-party references, take a safety training course, and pass a background check with a focus on mental, criminal, and addiction histories.

In the eastern side of the world, in Japan, the laws are very strict. There are 0.6 firearms for every person in Japan. Civilians cannot possess handguns, automatic assault weapons, semi-automatic assault weapons, military rifles, or machine guns. Japanese civilians aren’t even allowed to own swords. Failure to abide by the laws leads to 10 years in prison. 

In Australia, citizens must demonstrate a justifiable need to have a gun, such as being a farmer or sport shooter. Australia doesn’t have a full semi-automatic handgun ban nor does it have laws designed to keep guns away from the mentally ill. 

How to overcome the challenge of gun ownership and depression?

Despite having mental illnesses, a person can be a responsible gun owner. But, the reason for owning a gun should be made very clear. For this, a doctor/psychiatrist has to do a thorough assessment of the mental health status and vulnerabilities of the person before they are granted permission to own a gun. Gun owners state these reasons for owning guns- personal protection, constitutional right, hunting, target/sport shooting, collection of guns as a hobby.  

Having an agreement with a loved one of the person with mental illness is also a good option. The agreement could be one that binds between the both of them stating under what mental states the gun would be away from their access.   

Side Note: I have tried and tested various products and services to help with my anxiety and depression. See my top recommendations here, as well as a full list of all products and services our team has tested for various mental health conditions and general wellness.

What to do if you are in depression and are in need of guns?

Analyze your mental, emotional states, and your need for owning a gun?

There are some important questions to ask yourself and probably even discuss with a confidante when it comes to owning guns while having a mental illness. 

Ask yourself the following questions:

Am I stable enough to handle the responsibility of a gun?

Do I really need a gun?

If I am seeking permission to own a gun for personal protection, can there be other ways in which I can protect myself without a gun?

If I am seeking permission to own a gun for recreational purposes, can there be other ways in which I can have fun without a gun?

Who will I inform about the possession of my guns and where it is kept?

How do the lowest of my lows make me feel?

What is my ‘safety plan’ in case I have suicidal thoughts, even fleeting ones; how will I stay away from the gun at that point in time? 

What am I doing about my depression/ mental illness?

Consult a psychiatrist 

A psychiatrist can diagnose your depression as well as prescribe medication, for example, antidepressants based on the severity of the condition of the person. Antidepressants are an important part of recovery and going to a professional should not be delayed. If you feel the antidepressant effects are weaning out and the depressive symptoms are surging to be stronger, do not use guns during this period. 

A psychiatrist will also be a helpful judge while deciding if ownership of a gun is a good idea for you while battling depression. 

Seek mental health therapy 

Consulting a counselor/ psychotherapist is essential in mental health issues. This, most often, goes hand in hand with medication based on the severity of depression. 

A counselor can bring in newer ways of perception, help the person to emote better while engaging in healthy boundary-making. The counselor can also help the person eradicate irrational thoughts and beliefs that inhibit the person’s well-being. The counselor and the client, together, also work on and construct healthier coping mechanisms against stressors for the client. 

Improve lifestyle choices and work towards good health

Health is a concept with many interlinkages and it is also all-encompassing. One can’t expect to have good mental health if their physical health is deteriorating and vice-versa. Exercising, healthy eating habits, good sound sleep, and practicing mindfulness, along with any medication/therapy if need be, can help attain victory over any condition, including depression. 

Conclusion 

In this article, we talked about depression and gun ownership. We discussed the statistics of gun ownership, the laws around depressed people owning guns, the harms related to it.  We also looked at what can be done to overcome depression. 

Frequently asked questions: Depression and gun ownership

Can you own guns with depression?

The answer differs from country to country. In the USA, According to federal law, individuals cannot buy a gun if a court or other authority has deemed them as “mentally defective” or committed them involuntarily to a mental hospital.

Does everyone have the right to own a gun?

Not in every country. The laws are different in every country even if they follow the same governing approach- for example, democracy, monarchy, etc. 

In the US, the constitution provides the fundamental right to keep and bear arms as per the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution.

How many gun owners are there in the USA?

Five Million Americans Became First-Time Gun Owners in 2020.

Which countries in the world have constitutional provisions for gun ownership?

Only three countries in the world currently have a constitutional right to own a gun: the US, Mexico, and Guatemala. Other countries that had these provisions withdrew them. 

What we recommend for depression

Professional counselling

If you are suffering from depression then ongoing professional counselling may be your ideal first point of call. Counselling will utilize theories such as Cognitive behavioural therapy which will help you live a more fulfilling life.

References 

Kim J. (2018). Beyond the trigger: The mental health consequences of in-home firearm access among children of gun owners. Social science & medicine (1982), 203, 51–59. 

Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5924443/ 

https://www.businessinsider.in/politics/How-Australia-And-Other-Developed-Nations-Have-Put-A-Stop-To-Gun-Violence/articleshow/21447576.cms

https://injuryprevention.bmj.com/content/8/4/313

https://www.themarshallproject.org/2018/02/22/a-responsible-gun-owner-despite-my-mental-illness

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