The Port Arthur massacre and the National Firearms Agreement: 20 years on, what are the lessons?
The 20th anniversary of the National Firearms Agreement (NFA) offers lessons for mental health and public health. Along with similar international legislation, the NFA exemplifies how firearms regulation can prevent firearm mortality and injuries. The gun lobby claims that mental illness underpins gun violence and should be a key site for intervention. A modest but significant link exists between mental disorders and community violence. However, the vast majority of mentally ill individuals are not violent. Despite media portrayals of their dangerousness, they are more likely to be victims of violence and of suicide. Most violent individuals do not have mental illness, and most mass murderers do not have identifiable severe mental illness. Many have maladaptive personality configurations. Gun availability and gun ownership, not severe mental illness, determines most gun homicides. Following recent gun massacres in the United States, there have been calls for better resourcing of mental health services to help identify and respond to those at risk and to regulate firearms access. Screening mentally ill populations for violence risk is misguided. However, clinicians can play a key role in working with legal authorities to monitor and assist regulation of firearm access, especially among high risk populations. Clinician involvement must be complemented by wider gun control measures. The gun lobby's turning the firearms availability debate into a question about whether people with mental illness histories should access such weapons is a calculated appeal to prejudice.