Jim Strickland

Vets, PTSD and Guns

Jim Strickland
This is not legal advice. You should always seek the advice of an attorney who is qualified in Veterans' law before you make any decisions about your own benefits.

I'm a veteran with a P & T 100% PTSD rating.  

The requirement of the state of TN carry permit says that if you receive social security for a mental disability you cannot get a permit. I thought you had to be proven dangerous to be denied a handgun carry permit. Since I get social security for the ptsd is this considered a mental disability?

I would really like to have a carry permit,  since there are a lot more people out there who are a lot crazier than I am. I consider myself to be reasonably intelligent even though I have ptsd.

(Signed) A Concerned PTSD Vet


Just so we can establish my views on the matter: I have a concealed carry permit in Georgia and so does my wife. I carry a Glock 9 and she carries a Sig Sauer Liberty Edition 380. We're each well trained and skilled and we practice at a local gun range under the eye of a former military instructor.

We are not destined to be victims. One (usually both) of us will always have a firearm within easy reach and we will not hesitate to use it appropriately.

The laws that cover you and your desire to have a carry permit is complex.

Let's set this part of the record straight right now. These complex laws are not because of the Obama administration. I get a lot of ridiculous email blaming the liberal Democrats for taking away our guns. The truth is that the biggest crackdowns began with the attempt on President Regan's life. The Brady Bill started it all and it's just snowballed ever since.

However, most Americans today have no problems getting a permit. The NICS is a marvel of efficiency. You should hope the VA works as well some day.

Here's the deal...

Most of the restrictive laws are actually at your local level. The feds only do a criminal background check to ensure you're not a felon. That's the NICS check and it is done in a matter of minutes most days. If you aren't in the federal database, they will tell the licensed dealer that he can sell you a weapon.

To get a carry permit then is governed by your state law. Some states are wide open and others don't issue carry permits at all. From there it usually goes to your county.

I'm in Georgia and we go to our county probate court. The application requires that we have the NICS check done and then we apply via the probate court and go to the local sheriff to be fingerprinted and such for the permit. In Georgia the probate court must issue a permit within a few weeks. We are a "must issue" state rather than a "may issue" state. If there is nothing in our record prohibiting us, the probate court must give us a permit.

Now...mental health issues are complex. Most states/counties prohibit anyone who is "mentally deranged" or "mentally defective" from owning a weapon. It's debatable whether or not a diagnosis of PTSD makes you "deranged". The laws often read that you must have been "adjudicated" as mentally defective. That is often interpreted to mean that a court of law has determined that you are mentally defective. A VA determination probably isn't an adjudication for those purposes.

The law is weird. If VA finds you "incompetent to manage finances" and assigns you a fiduciary, the feds will restrict your right to bear arms. I have no idea why your ability to balance a checkbook should affect your right to own guns but it does.

Some laws also are pretty clear that if you have been involuntarily committed to a mental facility, you can't own a firearm. If you have been voluntarily committed, then you may own a firearm.

What is less clear is whether or not a veteran who is 100% for PTSD may own a weapon and have a carry permit.

Personally, I am concerned about any citizen who takes psychotropic medicines for a mental health condition carrying a concealed weapon. I'm a gun owner and I've carried a sidearm most of my life. On the other hand, if a man is admittedly unstable and has recurrent problems with PTSD and is on powerful medications, I'm not sure I want him in the same room with me when he's packing a 357.

Let's be realistic here...guns are dangerous. I don't drink alcohol and shoot. I don't think a guy on a sedative medication should shoot...or be armed.

I don't know your situation, of course. I can tell you only of my many friends who I've known over the years who have PTSD. One buddy is close to me today. He has a 10% rating for PTSD and he has a carry permit. I've had to intervene and take his guns from him when he's had anger problems in his marriage. I know another guy and he's 100% for PTSD and an avid hunter. He has no problems to speak of.

One thing vets must avoid is the temptation to say, "I'm told that the law says...". Veterans are some of the most ferocious gossipers on the planet. Don't listen to your buddies and don't fall back on things like " I thought you had to be proven dangerous to be denied a handgun carry permit." How would that even work? If you have a gun, as far as I'm concerned you're proven dangerous.

Get the facts before you start to consider a weapon on your side. These aren't toys. Strapping on a gun is probably the most serious thing you'll ever do. Don't run off half cocked.

In Tennessee the law says;

"Application for a Tennessee Handgun Carry Permit Supplemental Instructions

QUESTION 13(A) – Have you ever been adjudicated as a mental defective or have you been committed to or hospitalized in a mental institution?

Under 2009 Public Chapter 578, effective January 1, 2010, the applicant should answer ‘yes’ if he or she has been judicially committed to or hospitalized in a mental institution pursuant to title 33 (otherwise known as ‘involuntary commitment’).

An applicant who was voluntarily committed is legally able to answer ‘no’ to Questions 13(A).

A person who was judicially/involuntarily committed and who answers ‘no’ to Question 13(A) is making a false statement under penalty of perjury.

T.C.A.§39-17-1351(c) (12) That the applicant has not been adjudicated as a mental defective, has not been judicially committed to or hospitalized in a mental institution pursuant to title 33, has not had a court appoint a conservator for the applicant by reason of a mental defect, has not been judicially determined to be disabled by reason of mental illness, developmental disability or other mental incapacity, and has not, within seven (7) years from the date of application, been found by a court to pose an immediate substantial likelihood of serious harm, as defined in title 33, chapter 6, part 5, because of mental illness;"

PLEASE NOTE: I'm not a lawyer. This is not legal advice!

The way I read that, you have NOT been "judicially committed to or hospitalized in a mental institution" and under Tennessee law you are eligible for a permit. 

The NICS system says you're restricted if; "A person adjudicated mental defective or involuntarily committed to a mental institution or incompetent to handle own affairs, including dispositions to criminal charges of found not guilty by reason of insanity or found incompetent
to stand trial."  http://www.fbi.gov/about-us/cjis/nics/nics

You've not been adjudicated as a mental defective and so on. Again, PLEASE NOTE: I'm not a lawyer. This is not legal advice! You may want to ask a lawyer.

I'd suggest to you, just like I do with every vet who asks me about these things, that you take a long look at yourself and give it some thought. Do you have panic attacks? Are you agoraphobic? Do you hallucinate? Do you have horrific nightmares that may affect your perceptions of what's around you during the day? Do you ever have anger management problems?

If you believe that you are stable enough to own and carry a concealed loaded weapon, then go for it. It's your right as an American citizen. If you have any doubts, arm yourself with pepper pray or one of the new Taser devices.

If you are denied when you apply, let me know and we'll talk about how to appeal.

When you apply...be 100% truthful. Don't volunteer anything. If it asks "have you been committed?" answer yes or no. Don't answer "I've never been committed but I have a 100% PTSD rating...". Way too many guys can't shut up and fall into a trap when it just isn't necessary.

If you want a weapon and you decide that you're stable enough to justify owning one, head to a local licensed gun dealer and have a look. Ask for a NICS application and proceed to have that run. Your firearms dealer will be happy to tell you what to do after that.

The National Instant Background Check System (NICS)

Has VA told you that because you're "incompetent" you can't own a weapon? Read this...

Fast Letter 10-51

SUBJ:  Processing Requests for Relief from the Reporting Requirements of the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS)

The VA Fiduciary Process

Have you been notified that VA will appoint a fiduciary to manage your financial affairs? Were you told you would not be allowed to purchase or own firearms?

Read the authority they use:

Mental Illness Prohibition  (NICS Improvement Act)

Q:  Federal law prohibits people who are dangerously mentally ill from purchasing or possessing a gun.  Does the NICS Act change who is covered by this prohibition?

A:  No.  The NICS Act does not change the prohibition enacted in 1968 that bars people who are dangerously mentally ill from purchasing or possessing a gun.  Under federal law, people may not buy or possess a gun if they are “adjudicated as a mental defective” or “committed to any mental institution.”  ATF regulations define “adjudicated as a mental defective” as a:

Determination by a court, board, commission, or other lawful authority that a person, as a result of marked subnormal intelligence, or mental illness, incompetency, condition, or disease:

(1) Is a danger to himself or others; or
(2) Lacks the mental capacity to contract or manage his own affairs.

These regulations have not been changed by the NICS Act.  Note that merely seeking or receiving treatment for mental illness is not sufficient to bring someone within this prohibited class.

The NICS Act does provide that persons who are entered into NICS because of this mental illness prohibition may seek “relief from disabilities” by petitioning that their names be removed from NICS if they no longer suffer from the mental health condition that originally barred them from buying or possessing guns.

Vets & CWP's

Concealed Weapon Permits are issued at the municipal, county and state levels and the rules vary and may vary from federal guidelines.

The only reason a person, veteran or civilian, can be denied the right to buy a firearm for mental health reasons is by getting on the NICS "no buy" list.  The ONLY two reasons:  1. Have been adjudicated a mental defective (incompetent).  2. Have been involuntarily committed to a mental institution (voluntary commitment is not a disqualifier).

Treatment for PTSD or any other mental health condition will NOT prevent someone from clearing a NICS background check.
Jim Strickland
Jim Strickland
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