On February 2, 2015 a bill was referred to the Judiciary Committee in the State House of Representatives that should have you worried. House Bill 285 was introduced by Representative W. Thomas (D.) of Philadelphia County.
In his memorandum to House Members dated January 5, 2015, Representative Thomas stated that he planned to re-introduce legislation that would “limit individuals with mental illness from receiving a gun permit and/or purchasing firearms.” The memo briefly mentions that since the 18th Century the right of citizens to own, register and carry firearms has been restricted and that the Gun Control Act of 1968 (GCA) prohibited those who were treated for mental illness or substance abuse.
The memo continues with the National Instant Check System (NICS) Improvement Act and some of the provisions that were made possible. Representative Thomas notes that anyone who has purchased a gun in Pennsylvania is familiar with the mental health question that appears on the state and federal forms, “Have you ever been declared incompetent or involuntarily committed to a mental health institution?” The memo concludes with a final thought that while he believes this question seems reasonable enough, he proposes to add an additional question asking if the individual has ever been treated for any type of mental illness by a licensed professional.
Looking at the text of H.B. 285, it amends § 6109(c) which addresses License to Carry Firearms (LTCF). The proposed amendment is bolded and italicized below.
I have never been convicted of a crime that prohibits me from possessing or acquiring a firearm under Federal or State law. I am of sound mind [and], have never been committed to a mental institution and have never received mental health treatment on an inpatient or outpatient basis. I hereby certify that the statements contained herein are true and correct to the best of my knowledge and belief. I understand that, if I knowingly make any false statements herein, I am subject to penalties prescribed by law…
It also amends § 6111 which deals with the sale or transfer of firearms. In the pertinent part, it amends the state form that is required for all firearm purchases to read:
“Have you ever received mental health treatment on an inpatient or outpatient basis?”
While the mental health aspect of firearms in the community has been a hot button topic since Virginia Tech and more recently Aurora, Colorado and Sandy Hook, this bill raises a number of alarming questions.
What defines mental health treatment? Is it only inclusive of being treated for what would be commonly thought to be serious mental disorders such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder or does it expand to less stigmatized mental illnesses like obsessive compulsive disorder and anxiety? Where does depression fall in the mix?
A Center for Disease Control and Prevention study from 2011 estimated that 1 in 10 U.S. adults reported depression. Psychcentral.com lists a number of different disorders that are recognized by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). While it might not be Representatives Thomas’s intent, there are a wide range of mental disorders that an individual could seek help for which would disqualify them from obtaining a LTCF or purchasing a gun in the Commonwealth should this bill pass. Even eating disorders could trigger a prohibition if this were to become law.
More frightening is the chilling effect this could potentially have on individuals who want to seek help for issues they are having in their life. It would require individuals to potentially chose between getting the help they need and maintaining their Article 1 Section 21 right to keep and bear arms. Even more concerning is that if an individual were to get help for a mental illness which clearly shouldn’t be a prohibiting factor and then were to answer no to the proposed question for the Pennsylvania State Record of Sale, the individual would be committing a felony of the third degree under § 6111(g)(4)(ii).
Anyone who is concerned about an individual’s right to keep and bear arms should contact their State Representative and the committee members and tell them to vote against this bill. I’ve included links to find your State Representative and to the Judiciary Committee for your convenience.