City Government

PTSD, Mental Diagnosis Cloud Gun Issues

The DEATH of a U.S. military veteran allegedly shot by a former Marine suffering from PTSD in Texas put the issue of mental illness in the forefront of concealed weapons discussions.

Former Navy SEAL Chris Kyle and his neighbor Chad Littlefield took former Marine Eddie Ray Routh to a Texas gun range to help him, but for some reason Routh allegedly turned his gun on his two mentors, killing them both. Kyle is famous as the most deadly sniper in U.S. history, with more than 150 confirmed kills. He co- authored a book, AMERICAN SNIPER.
United States military veteran Color Guard on parade during 4th of July festivities in Cascade, Idaho, USA.
By most accounts, PTSD qualifies as a “mental illness” and currently about 30% of veterans are being treated for the “disorder.” Whether or not the condition is a disorder, illness, or disability is a cloudy issue.

The Veterans Administration treats thousands of “wounded warriors,” and makes disability payments to them. Herein lies the unanswerable question. “Should these people be allowed to carry concealed weapons or even possess weapons in a civilian society?”

VA Headquarters told the GUARDIAN, ” In Fiscal Year (FY) 2012, 502,546 Veterans with primary or secondary diagnosis of PTSD received treatment at Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) medical centers and clinics. Of those Veterans treated in FY 2012 for PTSD, 119,482 (24 percent) were Operation Iraqi Freedom/Operation Enduring Freedom/Operation New Dawn Veterans. Between FY 2002 and through third quarter of FY 2012, a cumulative number of 239,094 OEF/OIF/OND Veterans have received a provisional diagnosis of PTSD in VA Medical Centers and clinics.”

The county sheriff who issues concealed carry permits under Idaho law passes out the licenses almost without question to vets who have a form DD214 proving they served their country and are presumed to be trained in the use of firearms.

However, whether a civilian or a former member of the Armed Forces, there is no way for permit issuers or those doing background checks to determine who is or has been treated for mental illness–or even what defines mental illness.

For its part, BOISE PD has done an admirable job working with veterans. Chief Mike Masterson has personally taken on the mental illness cause after a shootout between a veteran and his officers led to an arrest of Sgt. George Nickel, but remarkably no injuries.

Since the issue of toting a gun has been reduced to a Second Amendment of the United States Constitution issue, the question of “can someone with PTSD or someone being treated for mental illness be deprived of the right to bear arms?”

VA also provided the following information regarding background checks and release of records:

National Instant Criminal Background Check System
The Brady Handgun and Violence Prevention Act of 1993 (The Brady Act), prohibits the sale of firearms to certain people. Title 18 of the United States Code (U.S.C.), Section 922(g)(4) defines as one class of ineligible persons anyone who “has been adjudicated as a mental defective or has been committed to a mental institution.” The definition of “adjudicated as a mental defective” by the Department of Justice (DoJ) is consistent with the definition of mental incompetency by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).

VA regulations define a mentally incompetent person as “one who because of injury or disease lacks the mental capacity to contract or to manage his or her own affairs, including disbursement of funds without limitation.” (38 Code of Federal Regulations 3.353(a)). The mere existence of mental illness is insufficient grounds for a finding of incompetence. Rather, that mental illness must prevent a beneficiary from managing his/her own finances. Unless the medical evidence is clear, convincing and leaves no doubt, VA makes no determination of incompetency without a definite finding by responsible medical authorities. If a reasonable doubt arises regarding a beneficiary’s mental capacity to contract or to manage his/her own affairs, VA resolves such doubt in favor of competency. VA notifies the beneficiary in advance of the proposed finding of incompetency and informs the beneficiary of the right to submit evidence or request a hearing.

Pursuant to Section 103(e)(1) of The Brady Act, a person who is prohibited, based on a finding of incompetency, from possessing, shipping, transporting, or receiving firearms or ammunition must be reported to DoJ for inclusion in the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) database. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) manages the NICS database for DoJ.

In 1998, VA and the FBI signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) in which VA agreed to provide to the FBI the names of individuals who have been adjudicated mentally incompetent. Pursuant to the MOU, VA provides the beneficiary’s name, date of birth, gender, and identifier of the agency record. VA does not provide specific medical records or findings regarding an individual’s mental health status.

The Brady Act initially required the continuation of firearms prohibitions to persons even if an agency later restored competency. However, on January 8, 2008, the President signed The NICS Improvement Amendments Act of 2007, Public Law 110-180 (The Act). The Act removes firearms restrictions for persons no longer adjudicated as incompetent, and mandates a program for relief of the restrictions for those who are presently adjudicated incompetent, in accordance with 18 U.S.C. 925(c).

Question 1: Has VA set up a relief program, how many people have applied and what is the status of those applications?

Answer: In November 2010, after consulting members of Congress, the Department of Justice, and the Office of General Counsel, VA released Fast Letter 10-51, Processing Requests for Relief from the Reporting Requirements of the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS). The fast letter provided information to VA field offices regarding the NICS relief program and the procedures for handling requests for relief. Thus far, VA has received a total of 101 requests for relief. As of March 11, 2011, VA has denied 12 requests and granted 1, leaving 88 pending relief requests.

Question 2: Has VA removed any records from NICS based on some of the criteria laid out in the NICS Improvement Amendments Act?

Answer: Pursuant to Title I, Section 101(a)(4)(D) of the NIAA, when an individual has competency restored, VA must update, correct, or remove the name of the individual from any database VA maintains and makes available to DoJ for inclusion in NICS. Prior to May 2008, VA only removed records from NICS if the beneficiary was erroneously entered or deceased. However, in May 2008, VA began electronically informing DoJ when a beneficiary’s competency was restored. In 2009, VA sent to the FBI at least 4,363 records to be removed from the NICS database. However, these numbers do not distinguish between records deleted because of regained competency and those for other reasons, such as death of the beneficiary. At this time, VA is unable to provide the exact number of records it has removed from NICS for any specific factor.

Question 3: How many records does VA send to NICS each year?

Answer: In November 1999, VA provided DoJ with an initial list of 88,898 incompetent beneficiaries. Each month thereafter, VA provided NICS with a list of names of VA beneficiaries rated incompetent to manage their VA benefit payments. From November 2007 to June 2009, VA sent 65,910 transactions to NICS. However, transactions include additions, deletions, and updates. As of February 28, 2011, VA has 129,501 entries in the NICS Index.

Comments & Discussion

Comments are closed for this post.

  1. St.Luke Corp. needs to loose the non profit status. They do not provide a psych hospital for people in distress. Shameful.

  2. Idahocrystal
    Feb 4, 2013, 3:15 pm

    Adding the “mental health” section to the background checks is such a pithy gesture. It’s an easy thing for the administration to point to and say, “Look what we did!”

    While it’s an improvement that people who’ve been ‘institutionalized’ for mental issues or people who the courts have said can’t manage their own affairs, it leaves an absolutely massive gap with people who are obviously unbalanced but untreated. Or who just haven’t been convicted. (Pleading down to disturbing the peace comes to mind.) Or who have the family and/or financial resources for private treatment. And then comes the HIPPA and medical privacy issues. (The Theater shooter comes to mind.)

    I recently sold a gun through the classifieds and I seriously felt like I was doing something wrong. I went so far in covering my own rear as to photograph the license of the gentleman who purchased the gun for his wife as a secondary weapon for bow hunting. A situation no more innocuous than if I had sold him my microwave but yet all the hoopla has created an environment where gun owners have to worry if we’re doing something wrong…

  3. Rod in SE Boise
    Feb 4, 2013, 5:21 pm

    Keeping guns out of the hands of the mentally ill will require tons of money and still will not be 100% effective, just like keeping guns out of the hands of criminals is complicated, and nothing can be 100% effective.

  4. It bothers me that you’d make such a blanket statement in regards to PTSD. I don’t believe it’s a fair argument to simply state that a veteran who has been diagnosed with PTSD should be tagged as mentally ill. I’d hope that the Guardian was not attempting to take a tragedy and turn it into agenda.

    EDITOR NOTE–Jason, the GUARDIAN is also a vet. We are losing 22 vets a day to suicide alone. That’s a tragedy every 65 minutes according to the VA and many do themselves in with guns. The problem is certainly not limited to veterans, but it is easier for them to carry concealed in Idaho and that could be a danger to themselves as well as others. Coppers, sheriffs, courts, and mental health experts are all grappling with the problem and no one has an answer.

  5. The problem with mental health diagnosis is the variablility from doctor to doctor. We have all witnessed the criminal trials (or pre-trials) where one side is declaring the defendant incompetant, and the other saying they are competant. Which doctor is correct? This will likely just add more cost and burden to the tax payers.

  6. I might be full of crap but I try not to be:

    Suicides: 22 a day is a lot, but what they didn’t say in that report is that rate is lower than the non-military rate. This economy has been very tough on the civilian wage-earners in America. Media does not report on suicides because it seems to cause more of them. Transition to civilian life can be very hard. In the military you might get shot at, but you have instructions and supervision for everything… including using a toilet. In civilian life you work completely without a net and it is scary it a whole new way.

    PTSD: Like many other illnesses has a spectrum of severity from mild to profound. The question you are asking Editor is: Who is safe and sane to be packing and who is not. To answer that question you need much more than a diagnosis. The Obama administration’s fruitcake in charge of DHS has made statements about how she fears returning veterans… as did Joe Stalin. So I expect some federal action to label those they fear most.

    Who’s packing: Unfortunately, I know and have met several people who pack but do not have the appropriate temperament for it. It’s as if they are looking for a reason to escalate, and are much too paranoid. While still others do not know the rules and think a CCP makes them a quasi Peace Officer. Then there are the truly special people who open-carry while doing yard work within a fenced yard in the safest neighborhood west of the Mississippi… then later that day are digging through the lawn-clippings because the gun fell out of the holster. This last group are the special people who sometimes get shot by their child or wife who finally snapped after years of living under the thumb of a nut-job.

    My theory is DHS will be run by a different U.S. President before they are able to make any big lasting changes to gun laws. NRA is the big dog in that town. However, I also think too many ill-tempered, macho, middle-aged, sore-backed fat-guys, with a gun and a temper will eventually cause too many unnecessary shootings. Then the sheriffs will tighten things up even in dusty ol’ Idaho.

    New to guns: I predict we’ll have a rash of stupid people accidentally or impulsively discharging the new toy they recently purchased. I also predict a bunch of CCP holders getting shot by the cops because they had a gun in their hand when the cops arrived… cops shoot at everyone with a gun, even other cops sometimes… it says in their report after the fact that they told you to drop it… but they have a dangerous job and you probably won’t have time.

    Getting to hot out by the pool, time for a nap ;)

  7. And don’t forget that this is just Politics to Obama. He’s using the gun issue just like all the other emotional issues such as abortion, gay rights, immigration, etc. These issues are perfect for dividing and thus making the entire middle-class vote irrelevant. He needs to strip the money away from the middle-class and this divide-and-conquer plan is working perfectly. If Obama cared about gun crime, we’d have an M-16 on every street corner in D.C., Detroit, Chicago, Miami, and Philly. We have the NYC stop-and-frisk policy in use in every crime area. Be we don’t because that not his goal. He just needs the middle to stay divided.

  8. It troubles me that we might be requiring mental treatment professionals to report anyone who “may” be a danger to themselves or others (via proposed legislation). Even prior to prescribing common antidpressants, they give you a form and one of the questions is “have you ever had thoughts of harming yourself?” I would be very hesitant to be honest if I knew that answering honestly could get me on the federal “crazy” database. It cause many not to seek treatment at all.

    As for vets getting guns without training, they are still required to pass the background check. I think that vets should be required to take the training–there is more to carrying concealed than knowing how to shoot safely and effectively. I got my permit in Idaho with no training (vet). I then got one for Utah… and learned a lot in the class. As an asided, I was in the Air Force from 69 to 73 and never fired a gun once! We went to the range in basic, but it was being repaired. We went through the motions and “dry fired.” We pretended.

  9. Sorry to be a scold, but really is the education system in Idaho that bad?

    Loose – Not fastened, restrained or contained. When wearing jeans, a loose fit is a baggy fit.

    Lose – To be unsuccessful in retaining possession of. IE, misplacing or losing keys.

    A hospital would LOSE it’s tax exempt status. Jeans are LOOSE fit.

    This misuse of lose/loose is too common to be just a typo in most cases.

    Please Lose the loose use of these words.

  10. Good article Guardian.
    Good point about what is PTSD? Regardless of definition, it is reasonable anyone being treated for severe PTSD/depression ought to be limited from firearms, for their own safety until an evaluation clears their state of mind for an extended time period. Whether it is local government or their FRIENDS and FAMILY locking up the firearms for awhile. It is right along the lines of “Leave No One Behind”. That doesn’t stop when they get off the plane stateside. Same applies to LEO and first responders involved in the serious chaos of their jobs too.

    County sheriffs ought to consider providing FFL background checks for private sales…as IdahoCrystal leads to selling privately is a risk. But if a seller could say, “meet me at the sheriffs office to do a background check” through their system, even with a $15 fee, that is something positive local law enforcement could do.
    And from a buyer standpoint, I would like to know the gun Serial is not stolen. Of course a stolen gun is not likely to show up there, but if someone is not willing to use a Sheriff’s service of this, then I don’t want to buy it from them.

    And gun shows NEED to be proactive-

  11. Glad people are talking about this topic. It will be difficult. One of the problems is many people are not criminals or psycho until they pull the trigger and start murdering people. How will we decide who is exempt from owning a gun? Personally I feel like Dick Cheney is a psycho for getting us into a bogus war costing thousands of lives and for what? Then shooting someone in the face with a shotgun when out hunting.

    As a bird hunter, I have missed many opportunities to kill far more birds because I keep the plug in my shotgun allowing only three rounds. If I was fully loaded with five or had a magazine extension alowing 7 rounds, I would have had the capability of killing more birds at one time. Restricting magazine capacity does make sense when looking at the physics of having to reload. I think it needs to start here and the cries of people who think they have rights to massive killing power are shallow. Their logic would then allow full automatic and grenade launching capabilities to mimic the capability of the military they think they need to defend themselves against.

  12. One discussion that has been left out of the gun control debate and PTSD is drugs. Not illegal drugs, but prescribed medications, vaccines and supplements(non prescribed)
    Has war fare really changed so much that our soldiers can’t deal with it anymore? War is stressful, far more than anyone except a veteran can understand. I do not believe that PTSD is caused solely by combat related issues anymore. I think the medications also have something to do with it. Yet, we hear little discussion about that detail.

  13. Dave, I don’t know about you, but I almost took offense when Zippo referred to “ill-tempered, macho, middle-aged, sore-backed fat-guys.” Why single US out?
    (-;

    But seriously, good thoughts from the Guardian and many of the commenters. Tough issue.

    Even if a private party wanted to do a “background check” before selling a gun, there are currently no resources available to facilitate that. How can we change that, without invading individual citizens’ privacy, which is also valuable?

    When I was a kid, you could order a gun out of the back of a magazine. Sears & Roebuck used to have ‘em just inside the door (12th and State – old timers will remember it). Has the “gun problem” gotten worse since they’ve been regulated more, or does it just seem that way because of the instantaneous news rotation? (Personally, I don’t think I’ve lived a particularly sheltered life, but I’ve never pointed a gun at somebody else, or had a gun pointed at me.)

  14. Zippo,

    I don’t think your numbers are correct. Military suicide rates for males are double the national numbers. Suicide is the leading cause of death for female veterans. I realize different studies made by different people may change the numbers slightly, but this seems to be fairly consistent.

    http://deploymentpsych.org/topics-disorders/suicide

  15. LJ, You are correct, in that it can be hashed in different ways to get different results. I got an “every 16 minutes” number from this study. There are lots of statistical methods. Clearly it is a problem across the spectrum of society.

    http://www.emaxhealth.com/1357/25/33364/week-national-suicide-prevention-week.html

    Any is too many. I bet alcohol is often in the mix? Along with major life changes.

    Very sad.

  16. We need to work on the mental illness/suicide problem… but I think a much bigger concern is the growing monster in DC… they seem to be very worried about something internal.

    Read the comparitive to active military volume of ammunition.

    In a way this is good, because when less paranoid people are eventully in charge it will be sold to the public as cheap surplus.

    http://www.infowars.com/dhs-purchases-21-6-million-more-rounds-of-ammunition/

  17. I think they are buying all the ammo to make it harder for citizens to get. With companies filling huge orders like this it is going to be awhile until it is available in large supply again.

  18. LJ: I did consider your point, and again ask: What are they afraid of? The Editor is posting a question about civil rights vs. public safety. I’d like to point out how dangerous it is to compromise on civil rights. This is the point Bruce Willis was making in his statement as well. Attached is a link to a situation where someones rights were violated. It is becomming more common these days. I’m not as concerned about crazy people with guns as I am about the people who no longer respect our civil rights. If you read the text it mentions that this is the second look-alike vehice they shot up. Should be some interesting spin in this after-action report.

    http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/lanow/2013/02/ex-cop-manhunt-newspaper-delivery-women-shot.html

  19. Nan, dog is actually a product of the vaunted Californis schools system.

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