Firearms & Mental Health

Multiple killings by people using firearms or other weapons are invariably preceded by a series of aggressive, impulsive actions by the individual concerned. Research in a number of countries has shown that these people usually have a predilection for violence and a history of disagreements with others, punctuated by threats.

This was shown in the Aramoana, Dunblane and Tasmanian tragedies. Each of the perpetrators had demonstrated they were a threat to society through a number of indicative factors and a reported history of anti-social behaviour.

The most important question is how these disturbed, homicidal people managed to remain in the community without coming into effective contact with the authorities.

The Arms Amendment Act 1992, which was introduced after the Aramoana killings, imposed special conditions for owning military style semi-automatic firearms but failed to address the perpetrator’s mental health problem which was the cause of the tragedy.

No gun law has ever sanctioned legal ownership of firearms by a disturbed person. Aramoana was not a failure of the law, but of diligent enforcement of it.

Under the current legislation Police have authority to seize firearms in domestic violence situations but there is no requirement to prohibit a person who is being treated for mental illness from keeping or getting a firearm.

COLFO Policy

While the assessment of the fitness of such a mentally disturbed person is a matter for medical experts, COLFO maintains that there is a case for medical authorities to be required to inform the Police of any such orders for detention and also of voluntary admissions for psychiatric care.

COLFO considers the Police should have the authority to invoke such detention as a ground for suspension or revocation of a firearms licence and confiscation of any firearms belonging to the person concerned.

Action required

COLFO recommends appropriate action is taken to help the mental health system, the legal sector and the Police operate in an integrated manner to achieve a satisfactory level of public safety in this regard.

COLFO also recommends that a system of profiling applicants and owners be established to identify suitability to own or possess firearms.