The Evolving Position of the American Psychiatric Association on Firearm Policy (1993-2014)

Bonnie, R. J., Appelbaum, P. S., & Pinals, D. A. (2015). The evolving position of the American Psychiatric Association on firearm policy (1993–2014)Behavioral Sciences & the Law33(2-3), 178-185.


Before the Supreme Court’s 2008 decision in District of Columbia v. Heller, the American Psychiatric Association’s position on gun policy reflected the strong gun control perspective championed by the nation’s public health establishment. After Heller declared that an individual’s right to bear arms is constitutionally protected, the APA refocused its attention on the specific aspects of firearm policy that implicate the interests and rights of persons with mental illness. Psychiatrists are mindful of the need to curtail firearm access by persons with mental disorders that elevate the risk of suicide or violence to others, but they are also opposed to stigmatization, discrimination, and unfair treatment of individuals based on mental illness. Although civil commitment is an acceptable basis for prohibiting access to firearms, other adjudications of conduct indicative of elevated risk should also be included. Every state should provide a fair and reasonable process for restoring firearm rights after a suitable waiting period based on individualized assessment of whether the person remains at an elevated risk. However, restricting firearm rights of persons solely on the basis of a diagnosis of a mental disorder or voluntary treatment, whether in-patient or outpatient, discourages treatment and would be counterproductive.