Deb Shoemaker, executive director of the Pennsylvania Psychiatric Society, and Shira Goodman, executive director of the gun violence prevention group CeaseFirePA, caution against unfairly restricting the mentally ill from accessing guns.
According to spokesperson Maria Finn, Pennsylvania State Police currently track those who are involuntarily committed to mental hospitals based on records obtained from county mental health officials.
Shoemaker said some people with mental illness “shouldn’t have a gun because of a propensity [to commit] violence,” but also noted that only four percent of people with mental illness are violent.
Goodman said she supports allowing police to temporarily seize weapons from a mentally ill person during a mental health crisis or barring such a person from buying weapons. That would take guns out of the hands of dangerous individuals without preventing someone from owning guns years after being hospitalized for a non-violent condition.
While the mental health aspect of the gun issue is important, she said, it is only part of the root problem: easy access to firearms. Gun buyers in many states are able to find loopholes to acquire weapons and avoid a background check. “In Pennsylvania,” writes columnist John Finnerty, “a private sale of a handgun must be completed in front of a licensed dealer, so a background check can take place. But no such provision exists for rifles or other long-guns.”