Psychological tests “shot-block” gun ownership?

The Test: to determine who is “sane” enough to own and operate guns.


In October 2013, a New Jersey stateswoman proposed that all gun buyers should be submitted to psychological testing as well as a home visit to keep firearms from children and the mentally ill (Celock, 2013). This testing process might seem like a logical step in promoting gun safety as it is asserted, “guns don’t kill people, people do” (Johnson, 2013, para. 2). The New Jersey stateswomen suggests applying the same psychological testing to gun buyers that is currently used in the process of recruiting police officers. In short, psychological testing would be used to ascertain who could safely own a gun. But how is this possible?

Here are my criticisms regarding psychological testing to qualify for gun ownership:

(1) What kind of psychological test has the ability to accurately evaluate whether someone can safely own a gun?

In New Jersey, it would seem that the psychological tests given to police candidates are as follows (a) an interview with a psychologist and (b) a series of personality tests (Johnson, 2013). Now, apply this to gun ownership: first, the interview is a subjective measure — what if your evaluating psychologist is a member of the NRA? Second, a personality test might be considered a more objective measure but that begs the question, what kind of personality would make someone inherently dangerous with a weapon? Imagine a headline … “Avoidant personalities banned from gun use!”

Moreover, in the USA, more people are killed by guns in the act of “suicide” rather than “homicide” (Herper, 2012). Does this mean that the government should have the right to access medical charts and remove weapons from people with depression etc.?

(2) Banning certain personalities from owning guns would be problematic when considering the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution i.e., an individual’s right to keep and bear arms. In sum, applying psychological restrictions to gun ownership would prevent some individuals from exerting their rights as free American citizens.

The fact of the matter is that people kill with guns more than any other weapon in the United States (Fischetti, 2013). In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2008) published that 30 694 people in the United States were killed with guns in 2005. And that leads to the final question (s) … would it be possible to save lives with rigorous psychological testing for gun ownership? And what would be the ratio of lives to cost i.e., how many lives would have to be saved to make it worthwhile in terms of the cost of psychological testing?

Penny for your thought (s).


Celock, John. (2013, october 01). New Jersey Gun Buyers Might Face New Hurdle: Mental Health Tests. The Huffington Post. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/01/10/new-jersey-gun-control_n_2450518.html

Centers For Disease Control and Prevention. (2008). Deaths: Final Data for 2005. Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/nvsr/nvsr56/nvsr56_10.pdf

Fischetti, Mark. (2013, June 18). People Kill with Guns More Than Any Other Weapon. Scientific America. Retrieved from http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/people-kill-with-guns-more-than-any-other-weapon/

Herper, M. (2012, December 16). Searching For Hard Data on Guns and Violence. Forbes. Retrieved from http://www.forbes.com/sites/matthewherper/2012/12/16/searching-for-hard-data-on-guns-and-violence/

Johnson, David. K. (2013, February 12). “Guns Don’t Kill People, People Do”. Psychology Today. Retrieved from http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/logical-take/201302/guns-don-t-kill-people-people-do

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