Firearms regulation, violence and the mentally ill: A contemporary Antipodean appraisal
International Journal of Law and Psychiatry
Volume 37, Issue 4, July–August 2014
As recent cases of mass murder at Utoya Island in Norway, and in the United States (US) at Virginia Tech, Virginia; Tucson, Arizona; Aurora, Colorado; and Newtown, Connecticut all illustrate, acts of extreme violence involving high powered weapons and committed by persons with a presumed or confirmed mental illness tend to arouse intense public and political debates about the efficacy of firearm regulation and control. Following these tragedies, in the US at least, various law reform measures have been proposed and in some cases implemented designed principally to make it more difficult for mentally ill persons to gain access to firearms. In this article it is contended that measures like these are at best tinkering with the margins of gun control and also have the tendency to reinforce the stigma and discrimination experienced by persons with a mental illness, while perpetuating stereotypes of them as dangerous to themselves and others. Despite these limitations, and while firearm regulation policies and practices vary widely across the globe, most nations still seek in some way to limit access to guns by persons with a mental illness. This article explores in more detail how such policies and practices have been applied in the Australian State of New South Wales and the lessons to be learned elsewhere from this experience.