Let's Break Down Gun Laws & Mental Health

On February 14, 2018, a gunman opened fire on students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, killing 17 and hospitalizing 14. The massacre marks the 18th school shooting since the beginning of 2018, according to Everytown for Gun Safety. If you’ve been keeping up with the news, you’ve probably seen how the incredible students and survivors of the shooting have been actively stepping up and speaking out about gun violence in the U.S., and even met with Donald Trump regarding the issue of gun control.


While the students are demanding gun reform and the ban on purchasing semiautomatic rifles, it comes as no surprise that isn’t Trump’s proposed solution to the problem. Since the shooting, Trump has primarily placed the blame on mental health issues and on students not reporting concerning instances (hi victim blaming!). In a tweet sent out on Thursday, Feb. 15, Trump said, “So many signs that the Florida shooter was mentally disturbed, even expelled from school for bad and erratic behavior. Neighbors and classmates knew he was a big problem. Must report such instances to authorities, again and again!”


There’s no denying there are major mental health issues in the United States, especially in young men, and this insight would be somewhat plausible if the only piece of gun legislation Trump had passed hadn’t been to undo restrictions aimed at those with mental illnesses purchasing guns. But the sad reality is that the Trump administration not only loosened gun laws on the mentally ill, but the primary solution proposed by Trump isn’t to actually address the issue of mental illness in the U.S. - it’s to start arming teachers to be prepared to take on a school shooter.


The gunman in the shooting was a student at the high school who was known to be threatening and mentally ill. Yet, despite the fact almost all students knew he was incredibly troubled, he was still able to purchase a semiautomatic rifle legally. How is that possible? Because there are essentially only two laws restricting those with mental illnesses from purchasing firearms:

  1. If he is involuntarily committed to a mental hospital. What does it mean to be involuntarily committed? In many states, law enforcement officers can take someone to a facility against their will be be evaluated by a doctor. They are held for 72 hours of observation, if a doctor wishes to continue treatment after that they can petition a court for permission. A court order allowing a person to continue to be held involuntarily is one thing that should stop an individual from purchasing a firearm. If the person was taken and not requested for continued treatment after those 72 hours, he is not blocked from buying a gun.

  2. If a court or government body declares him mentally incompetent. What does it take to be declared mentally incompetent? To be declared mentally incompetent, one must be considered a danger to himself or others or be unable manage his own affairs. This commonly arises when a court or government agency is appointing a conservator or a guardian for an adult because of mental impairment.


It will be interesting to see what, if anything the Trump administration does regarding gun reform. Unfortunately, at the moment it seems that the solution Trump favors is to simply arm teachers with guns.