Mental Health and Responsible Firearm Laws

Mental Health and Responsible Firearm Laws

October 06, 2022


At the 2022 Iowa Annual Conference Session, Gun Violence Resolution #704 was passed. The resolution asks Iowa United Methodists to “oppose and vote to defeat the ‘Iowa Right to Keep and Bear Arms.” amendment.’” Then in August, the Council of Bishops unanimously affirmed a statement addressing gun violence. To stop the gun violence epidemic in the U.S. and around the globe, bishops are urging United Methodists to raise their prayers to God and contact their elected leaders. This is the third in a series to speak to the Social Principles of The United Methodist Church and specifically gun violence. Read previous articles in the series here.


Submitted by: Rev. Nate Nims, Walnut Hills UMC 

Throughout middle and high school, I lived with depression and suicidal ideation. On multiple occasions, I contemplated and attempted suicide. 
If I had access to a firearm during those times, I would not be here today.
The Columbine High School massacre took place on April 20, 1999, when I was in eighth grade. By the time I was a senior in high school and admitted to my depression and suicidal ideation, the Assistant Principal told me that I was on a watch list as a potential school shooter. I had no history of violence towards others, I was never sent to the principal for disrupting class, I was hardly tardy, and never skipped school. And yet, because I was living with a mental illness, I was on a watch list as a potential school shooter. That same year a classmate of mine forgot’ that he had been hunting over the weekend and left a shotgun in the back of his truck. 
Thankfully, when that gun was found in the school parking lot, it was just another day at school, but I still find it striking that it was assumed I was a threat without a gun while another student, with a gun, was simply a kid that made a mistake.

With every mass shooting and tragic loss of life that happens due to gun violence, people with mental illnesses are dragged into the cacophony of voices that attempt to suggest there is no way to stop this senseless violence. While mental illnesses are often blamed for gun violence, the vast majority of violence in this nation is not caused by persons with mental illness. Gun violence impacts everyone, and placing blame on mental illness only further stigmatizes individuals living with mental health conditions while simultaneously distracting from the real issues and causes of gun violence. 

Studies have shown that mental illness contributes to about 4% of all violence.[1] Most people with mental health conditions will never become violent and persons with mental health conditions are more likely to be the victims of violence than the perpetrators of it. Simply stated, mental illness does not cause gun violence.
Too often, mental health is vilified in ways that discourage people with mental health conditions from seeking help and treatment: 
  • Continuing to blame gun violence on mental illness will only further stigmatize persons that are honest about their mental health issues.
  • Continuing to blame gun violence on mental illness will only keep others from seeking treatment because they might wonder what the Assistant Principal, their boss, their co-workers, or their family will think about them. 
  • Continuing to blame gun violence on mental illness will keep us from having the difficult but necessary policy discussions that are needed to prevent gun violence. 
We need to have honest and truthful conversations about all the factors that contribute to gun violence and how policies and laws can help to reduce the risk of gun violence. Additionally, while the relationship between mental health and gun violence is low, we need red flag laws, background checks, and other policies that make it possible to keep guns out of the hands of those that would be a danger to themselves or others.
Earlier this year, the Council of Bishops unanimously affirmed a statement addressing gun violence, saying, we must reject the idolatry of guns and the distorted attachment to our right to own guns without safeguards for the communities of the world.” [2] As followers of Christ, we are called to be peacemakers (Matthew 5:9). To make peace possible, we must advocate and vote against policies like the Iowa Right to Keep and Bear Arms Amendment” This amendment would lead to the elimination of common sense gun laws in Iowa and would make it difficult, if not impossible, for our state to keep guns out of the hands of those that would be a danger to themselves and others. The Iowa Right to Keep and Bear Arms Amendment” idolizes guns and prioritizes weapons above safety.
There are ways to reduce gun violence, such as gun restrictions and prohibitions for high-risk groups such as domestic violence offenders, persons convicted of violent crimes, and individuals with mental illnesses who have and could be a danger to themselves and others. Other measures could include licensing requirements for gun purchases, background check requirements for gun sales, and oversight of retail gun sales. It is likely that none of these policy measures would stand up to the strict scrutiny of the Iowa Right to Keep and Bear Arms Amendment.” 
How much are we willing to sacrifice on the altar of gun idolatry?
We’ve sacrificed school children.
We’ve sacrificed movie theaters.
We’ve sacrificed churches.
We’ve sacrificed safety.
The altar of gun idolatry will not be appeased by the continued sacrifice of people affected by mental illness. 
There is no singular solution to reducing gun violence, and so we need as many solutions as possible to be considered for policy and law. The Iowa Right to Keep and Bear Arms Amendment” greatly reduces the number of policies that could be enacted in Iowa and may lead to a further proliferation of gun violence. Sadly, it is not difficult to imagine a future where gun violence is continually blamed on mental illness rather than the policies that make this kind of gun violence possible.
The 2022 Iowa Annual Conference approved resolution #704, which calls on Iowa United Methodists to oppose and vote to defeat the Iowa Right to Keep and Bear Arms Amendment.’” This November, may our faith and calling from Christ to be peacemakers be seen at the polls by voting against the Iowa Rights to Keep and Bear Arms Amendment.”

What can United Methodists do?

The United Methodist Board of Church and Society offers the following steps church members can take to advocate for gun safety. 
  1. Contact your elected leaders via the Church and Society action alerts on our website, sign up to receive the agency’s emails and use the resources from the Creating Change Together Toolkit
  2. Get in touch with Church and Society staff and other United Methodists doing the work.
  3. Hold a prayer vigil. The Creating Change Together Toolkit offers resources for doing so.
  4. Encourage congregational Bible study. The United Methodist Church’s Kingdom Dreams, Violent Realities Bible Study provides a three-session gun violence prevention Bible study. 
  5. Build coalitions with other organizations in your local community interested in this issue. Church and Society organizing staff can help you with some best practices for grassroots activism.
“The question of how to live as a Christian in a violent world is not particular to our time or our context, but firearms make violence more deadly and more frequent,” the Rev. Susan Henry-Crowe, the agency’s top executive, said. 

“We would encourage United Methodists to heed the call from the bishops, to prayerfully study Scripture and listen to stories from survivors, and then to take concrete actions that help to build the kingdom of God on earth.”

Read Council of Bishops letter.