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Overall, 49% of respondents say the federal government should implement a law requiring a mental health evaluation for all firearm purchases, while 14% say they should only be required for automatic firearms purchases, and 15% only want them required for semi-automatic firearm purchases.
Nine percent of respondents do not support federal laws mandating mental health evaluations for any gun purchases, and 13% of respondents are undecided.
According to Clinical Counselor Danny Taylor, mandating such an assessment is the most rational first step in preventing a deadly weapon’s misuse.
“Requiring a mental health assessment is a crucial step in ensuring that the people who wish to own guns are in their healthiest frame of mind when they assume the responsibility of owning a weapon capable of causing great harm,” he explains.
Despite the issue of gun reform being a decidedly political one, with Democrats generally pushing for stronger gun-control laws and Republicans resisting, our survey found that a significant number of Republicans have a favorable attitude towards mental health assessments prior to gun purchases. Forty percent of Republicans support the mandate, as do 55% of Democrats.
The rate of support across the political spectrum is similar, Taylor says, because “This is a human issue, not a political concern. Mandated mental health assessments fit within our common humanity and collective responsibility for public safety and human rights.”
Taylor also points to the primary potential benefit of such assessments, saying, “Ultimately, this is about preventing guns from ending up in the hands of people whose mental health challenges might trigger great harm.”
The proposal to require mental health evaluations for gun purchases at the national level is popular even among gun owners: 50% support the idea, compared to 47% of those who don’t own any firearms.
Thirteen percent of gun owners do not support required mental health evaluations for any gun purchases, compared to 7% of non-gun owners.
Sixty-three percent of all survey respondents own a gun. Firearm ownership is highest among Republicans at 71%, followed by Democrats at 62% and Independents at 57%.
When asked how often gun owners should have a mental health assessment, 54% of gun owners say evaluations should be annual. Fifty-one percent of non-gun owners also think mental health should be evaluated on a yearly basis.
Should such a mandate be implemented, figuring out the optimal frequency of assessments may take some trial and error, says Taylor.
“It would be better to have tighter restrictions to start with, with a higher frequency of assessments,” he explains. “As we learn from the process, we can allow room to consider relaxing guidelines.”
Among Republicans who support mental health assessments for gun owners, 47% say these evaluations should take place annually, compared to 60% of Democrats. Nearly 1 in 5 Republicans say an assessment every other year is acceptable, while 15% say it should only be required before purchasing a new gun.
Overall, 55% of Americans believe mass shootings happen because the shooter experiences a mental health crisis. That number is slightly higher, 59%, among people who want mandated mental health assessments for gun ownership. However, only 23% of people who do not support federal laws for mental health assessments say that mass shootings happen for this reason.
Meanwhile, 13% of respondents say there is no correlation between mass shootings and mental illness. When broken down by political affiliation, Republicans are more than twice as likely as Democrats to say there is no correlation between mass shootings and mental illness, by a rate of 38% to 14%.
For the 9% of people who oppose federally-mandated mental health assessments for all gun purchases, the top reason cited is that assessments would violate the United State’s 2nd Amendment. This is an especially popular opinion among Republicans, with 65% choosing this answer, compared to 36% of Democrats.
Forty-one percent of respondents also oppose these assessments because they will not be objective, while 39% say they are a violation of medical privacy.
Taylor acknowledges that creating an objective, equitable assessment process is not without its challenges. That’s why a successful implementation will take a lot of collaboration.
“An interdisciplinary, diverse representation of Americans should help develop and review the assessment criteria and methodology,” he explains, noting that the assessment criteria should also be reviewed and re-evaluated regularly.
The data from this report comes from an online survey created and paid for by OnlineTherapy.com. The survey was administered by online survey platform Pollfish on May 6, 2021. We surveyed 1,250 Americans ages 18 and older regarding their opinions on federal laws requiring mental health evaluations for gun owners, their political affiliation, and whether they themselves owned guns.