Mental Health and Gun Safety

Gun ownership is a serious responsibility.

Firearms are power tools and as such, they are dangerous. They are designed to be deadly weapons and would be quite useless if they weren’t dangerous. In non-military contexts, firearms can be conceptualized as emergency rescue tools designed to kill when killing is necessary to save innocent lives. However, firearms are not the only power tools that are dangerous. Other power tools that are NOT designed to kill, but which nevertheless are very dangerous if not used responsibly and safely, include saws, drills, lawn mowers, meat slicers, and motor vehicles.

Clearly, none of the above mentioned power tools can cause death or severe bodily injury by themselves, as they have no independent agency. Their lethality lies in how they are employed. Therefore, their proper use and ownership demands the requisite knowledge, skills and attitude to assure their safe handling.

There are certain types of people who are strongly advised not to own firearms because it is dangerous for them to be gun owners. If you are pathologically fearful, depressed, hotheaded, careless, impulsive, reckless, ignorant, stupid, aggressive, arrogant, rude and irresponsible, then you should not own guns. Sociopaths, psychopaths and violent criminals should not be allowed to own firearms. Firearm ownership is not for impulsive, hot-headed people who cannot control their rage.

People who should not own firearms cannot be counted upon to follow safe firearm handling practices. They cannot be trusted to act safely, smartly, morally, righteously, courteously, considerately, or in sum, responsibly, because their brains are just not wired to do so.

Our mind is our most powerful weapon. Therefore, it can be our most dangerous weapon. An unhealthy, misdirected or runaway mind is destructive, while a healthy and focused mind is constructive. As a practicing psychologist, I help people overcome mental disturbance, build a healthier mind, and make their behavior more adaptive.

As a practicing firearms instructor, I advise folks who own firearms to invest in good training and good equipment. As both a psychologist and firearms instructor, I urge people to be responsible gun owners, and I also teach them how.

Becoming a Responsible Gun Owner

To become a responsible gun owner, you must . . .

  • acquire a necessary body of knowledge,
  • develop an appropriate set of skills, and
  • adopt a positive attitude,
  • cultivate a strong mind,
  • behave in a socially appropriate and adaptive manner,
  • practice safe gun handling procedures, and
  • know the law.

I developed a serious interest in firearms, armed and unarmed self-defense, and training, rather late in life. My journey has broadened my horizons and helped me build better morals, develop greater self-reliance, and learn greater restraint and self-control. I have discovered, as have many of my students and clients, that it is never too late to remedy one’s deficiencies. Even “old dogs can learn new tricks” and improved behavioral habits if they have good intentions and have at least average intelligence and common sense.

Firearm Ownership and Concealed Carry Demand a Higher Standard

Anyone who legally carries a concealed handgun, or who is trained in the martial arts, is held to a higher standard of conduct both morally and legally. That means the legally armed citizen must think about the use of force continuum. The amount of force that you use to defend yourself must not be excessive under the circumstances. It must be proportionate to the degree of force with which you are confronted.

The actual use of a firearm for self-defense is the highest level on this force continuum and the last resort that is reserved for use only In the Gravest Extreme (Massad Ayoob, 1980). When you carry a concealed firearm, you therefore must use extra discretion.

Avoid Getting into Confrontations

You must consider what might happen if you become engaged in a tussle because every confrontation in which you, the armed citizen, are involved also includes the presence of a deadly weapon. Thus, you must always think about how you can avoid getting into confrontations, because if you instigate or escalate a confrontation, and then it turns bad and you have to use deadly force, you will be held accountable.

So, if you go armed, you must avoid confrontations unless you have the training and skills to handle those confrontations less than lethally, and you are prepared to deal with the consequences should the situation get out of hand.

Recognize that in many, but certainly not all jurisdictions that allow concealed carry, you are permitted to use deadly force to protect yourself or another innocent person from death or serious bodily harm, or to prevent the commission of a forcible felony, such as rape, robbery, burglary, kidnapping, or arson.

But, check your state and local laws. Presenting or displaying a firearm in any other circumstances could result in your conviction for crimes such as improper exhibition of a firearm, aggravated assault, terroristic threats, attempted murder, or worse.

Recognize that verbal threats are not enough to justify the use of deadly force. There must be an overt act by the person which indicates that he immediately intends to carry out the threat. If you are threatened, in order to justify the use of deadly force in self-defense, you must reasonably believe that you will be killed or suffer serious bodily harm if you do not immediately take the life of your attacker or adversary.

In order to be justified in employing deadly force in the defense of another person, the circumstances must justify that person’s use of deadly force in his or her own defense. In other words, you must “stand in the shoes” of the person being threatened or attacked.

Being a responsible gun owner means that you understand the necessity of continuously working on developing your knowledge, skills and attitude as they apply to solving social problems. A firearm is more than a handful of “bad guy repellant”. As such, the responsible gun owner recognizes the necessity of learning how to properly use his or her firearms, learning when and when not to use them, and learning how to maintain and secure them.

Sources

  • ARMED: The Essential Guide to Concealed Carry by Bruce Eimer (2012). Abington, PA: Personal Defense Solutions eBook.
  • In the Gravest Extreme: The Role of the Firearm in Personal Protection by Massad Ayoob (1980). Concord, New Hampshire: Police Bookshelf.
  • From Luby’s to the Legislature: One Woman’s Fight Against Gun Control by Susanna Gratia Hupp (2009). San Antonio, TX: Privateer Publications.
  • Essential Guide to Handguns: Firearm Instruction for Personal Defense and Protection by Stephen R. Rementer and Bruce Eimer, Ph.D (2005). Flushing, New York: Looseleaf Law Publications.

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Free Video - Handgun Safety Intro

Free Video - Handgun Safety Intro

Author, psychologist and firearms instructor, Dr. Bruce Eimer, covers the essential aspects of handgun knowledge in the Basic Defensive Handgun video. Watch part 1 of this 8 part video series for FREE! Simply provide your email address so we can send you the link.

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