SHOULD ALL HUNTERS BE SCREENED BY MENTAL HEALTH?
Over the past five years I’ve noticed a worrying increase in the number of youth trophy hunters that are holidaying with their parents to Southern Africa for trophy hunting excursions. Some people may assume I’m being over-cautious or simply trying to stop the younger generation from undertaking a sport or so called tradition that they and their families enjoy.
Far from it; moreover I don’t believe its just the youth, that, in my eyes “would benefit from mental health screening”, but, instead all would be wannabe hunters, youth and adult, (basically anyone that wishes to acquire a hunting permit and firearms licence) to kill African wildlife and local wildlife endemic to their own country. Installing such strong and mandatory protocol – removes and/or bans mentally unstable individuals and sadists from out continent, temporarily or permanently.
Most if not all young hunters are American – standing at some 14 million and counting; furthermore there are few if any ‘requirements or checks carried out’ on the American youth or adult that applies for a hunting permit and firearms license within all states of America that could be hosting underlying mental health problems.
Today I witnessed yet again another hunter no older than ten years of age, holding a high-powered firearm, which to me on a professional note – I do find quite concerning – especially when a routine check of that individual showed up only one year of training. On researching the boy, his home town, hunting and firearm requirements . This ten year old child had to demonstrate that he was capable of handling a firearm, as well as being knowledgeable on firearm health and safety regulations.
Finally the young man “in America” must hunt with an adult over 21 years of age who’s holding a full clean hunting licence (none of which was being followed in the video). Now in relation to checks regarding “mental health screening”, the only checks that are undertaken are on those American citizens that have been “confirmed as mentally unwell/unstable, or are at risk of hurting themselves or others”.
Unfortunately under American law it does not state that all hunters must undergo a mental health check every six months to a year to rule out mental health problems ranging from depression, anxiety attacks, generalised anxiety disorder, panic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, post‑traumatic stress disorder and social anxiety disorder (among many other clinical problems).
After much research, I’ve located that ‘in a number of states of America’ there are no laws or requirements whatsoever aimed at those wanting to hunt or apply for a firearms license. That I find incredibly worrying, if not bordering absolute crazy. A firearm in a sense is no different to a vehicle. Both are dangerous in the wrong untrained and unstable hands, and both can kill if due care and attention is not practiced.
Image: Two American 10 year old’s kill giraffe
Meanwhile most American states host a ‘minimum age requirement’ to apply for a hunting licence, and firearms permit. The lowest minimum age is (ten years of age in some states) – again I find that very concerning, especially when the human brain is still developing from the ages of 1-21 years of age.
Fortunately most states though require some form of ‘education on handling and using a firearm’ with ‘firearms safety being a must’. Unfortunately this is not a requirement within a ‘few states’ from which any child of any age can apply for a hunting and firearms licence. Within them few states there are no laws whatsoever that state you have to undergo any form of firearms training and safety course, or even education on handling and using a firearm, furthermore there are no mandatory mental health checks!
So theoretically speaking we could have a large number of children and young adults hunting in Southern Africa that have no professional training whatsoever on how to use a firearm, not forgetting anyone of them hunters that could be hosting underlying mental health conditions such as: Generalised anxiety disorder, panic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, post‑traumatic stress disorder, social anxiety disorder, psychotic depression, personality disorders, or even eating disorders, or children that are living within a ‘dysfunctional family setup’.
The minimum age that I myself could locate throughout all the American states listed here was (10 years of age and 12 years of age). Other state age requirements ranged from (16 years of age and 21 year of age). As you can see in the link above there are also some states that have no minimum age requirement, and within other states the only real requirements are that the young hunter is accompanied by a ‘qualified adult hunter’, or hunts within ‘a group of mixed age qualified hunters hunting a certain species’.
When scanning through all state requirements and those that hosted nothing more than word of mouth from an adult there wasn’t under any circumstances any form of mental health screening. The only concerns relating to mental health ‘were aimed at those that had been diagnosed with a serious mental health problem’ however even then the law states these individuals mustn’t be discriminated against. Another major concern was that very few state requirements undertook any form of background checks on the wannabe youth or near adult hunter.
So again, theoretically speaking, we could have in Southern Africa any child from the age of 10 years to 12 years. or near adult, that have committed anti social, and violent crimes or are hosting underlying mental health conditions, with little if any firearms training, hunting animals with high powered rifles. Furthermore if anyone of them youths or young adults were traumatized once killing a large animal it could exacerbate any underlying mental health problem thus seeing a potential crime being committed on the continent or once back home. As a specialist I’m absolutely gobsmacked that the United States Government haven’t as yet implemented more tougher and stringent firearm safety protocol.
While most states do require you to undergo a hunting education course, many of these courses can now be undertake online, from the comfort of your own home for as little as $25.00USD. There is no one monitoring the student to ensure they don’t cheat, there is no one with the student to ensure errors can be corrected, and finally once the course has been concluded – you can even print your own certificate off (should you pass that is). Most of these courses do not require you to attend a real live class (with instructor) to prove you’re capable of handling a firearm, and have grasped all the safety aspects of that firearm. Again I find that deeply worrying!
Image: Female lion hunter shows no respect whatsoever
So as explained above, within the past five years there has been a large spike in the number of young hunters entering Southern Africa. Most dangerous game hunts take place within South Africa where there is an abundance of heavily populated dangerous game. However when in South Africa the young are now hunting larger, and much dangerous animals, down to big yet friendly animals such as giraffes, rather than smaller animals in their own country. While this may not seem concerning; its very concerning if we have young and near adult hunters with little training (or no training) running amok in Southern Africa that (could be hosting underlying mental health problems).
Since 1966, the National Rifle Association has urged the federal government to address the problem of mental illness and violence. As we noted then, “the time is at hand to seek means by which society can identify, treat and temporarily isolate such individuals,” because “elimination of the instrument by which these crimes are committed cannot arrest the ravages of a psychotic murderer.”.
More recently, the NRA has supported legislation to ensure that appropriate records of those who have been judged mentally incompetent or involuntarily committed to mental institutions be made available for use in firearms transfer background checks. The NRA will support any reasonable step to fix America’s broken mental health system without intruding on the constitutional rights of Americans?
What the NRA is forgetting though, is that they’re only supporting legislation from which an ‘individual has been diagnosed with a mental illness’, rather than all individuals that could be harboring symptoms of mental illness, drug or alcohol abuse that haven’t as yet surfaced. As a professional and qualified neurologist, I find that incredibly concerning, that anyone who’s not undergone a routine mental health check – can apply for a hunting and firearms licence. Furthermore if symptoms of any underlying mental illness begin to surface and, rage out of control – can end in abuse, or worst case scenario – suicide or murder.
Meanwhile, while this area of regulation is not being monitored professionally then it is within my professional opinion (and that of other experts) that all countries on the African continent ban any youth and adult that hasn’t undergone a full psychiatric screening appointment. There is no harm in visiting a domestic psychiatrist or mental health community worker. Furthermore if there is an underlying condition found, that condition or symptoms can be professionally treated thus helping the individual, and eliminating any identified symptoms or an illness from becoming worse.
Another concern that I myself located within the federal laws of America is listed below for your information:
“A person cannot be federally disqualified from owning a gun based simply on a psychiatrist’s diagnosis, a doctor’s referral, or the opinion of a law enforcement officer, let alone based on getting a drug prescription or seeking mental health treatment. Doing so would actually discourage troubled people from getting the help they need”
I find that statement absolutely ludicrous. A psychiatrists diagnoses for instance is a professional diagnoses based on his or her expert findings; furthermore a psychiatrist has to undergo over twelve years of professional medical training in most cases. So why an individual that has for instance been diagnosed with a personality disorder cannot be federally disqualified for I don’t know. That itself is off the entire “stupid scale”.
Image: 2014 states on unintentional firearms accidents on increasing
If this is how the NRA truly work then we seriously have major problems. Moreover how many individuals are there in America that have underlying mental problems, or have been diagnosed by a psychiatrist as suffering from depression, schizophrenia, manic depression, post traumatic stress disorder holding a full hunting and firearms licence – or been granted one with no checks based on the NRA and U.S. governments screening regulations? I am not under any circumstances, whatsoever trying to discriminate here, however if an individual is “clinically and mentally unstable” then providing a firearms and hunting license is a recipe for disaster.
Finally its in the interests of the psychiatrist and, the patient once a diagnoses (or degree of concern) has been made to then follow that report up, report to the individuals personal practitioner and help that individual ‘before a hunting or firearms licence is granted’. I’m somewhat perplexed as to why this area of ‘regulation’ would discourage troubled people from getting the help they need.
Furthermore under no circumstances should anyone be firing any form of firearm or operating anything ‘dangerous’, while under the influence of any medication that can induce sedation, drowsiness, lethargy, depression, mood swings, and agitation (among many mother prescription side effects). So again, in my professional opinion no government in anyone of the trophy hunting countries on the continent of Africa should be permitting any foreigner to hunt if they are under the influence of any type of medication, and not just psychotic medicines, as well as being diagnosed with a clinical mental health illness/problem/or/disorder.
Meanwhile, while mental health screening is indeed of a major concern, so to is that of uneducated, poorly trained or non-trained young hunters. To date there is (coincidentally) no database that reports on the number of youth hunting deaths in America. Furthermore trying to locate any statistics in relation to foreign African hunting deaths and accidents is like searching for a needle in a hay stack. That doesn’t though mean there isn’t any deaths or accidents, because there most certainly is!
Childhood gun and shooting accidents are not rare. They are one of the top ten leading causes of accidental death for all age groups outside of newborns and infants. Furthermore these known stats overtake those of adult hunting deaths. In 2007, there were 122 unintentional firearm deaths in children, and an additional 3,060 nonfatal gun and shooting accidents, which resulted in an estimated 1,375 children needing to be hospitalized for their injuries. Unintentional firearm deaths in children have remained at about the same levels since, with 114 deaths in children and teens less than age 18 in 2010.
How many childhood hunting accidents are there? That is hard to say (as explained), as there doesn’t seem to be a national database with hunting accident statistics. The Hunter Incident Clearinghouse of the International Hunter Education Association, which hasn’t been updated recently, reports 27 hunting-related shooting accidents in 2007 in children and teens less than 18 years old. This includes at least one death, a 14-year-old in Georgia who was unintentionally shot in the chest by another 14-year-old (who had completed a hunting education class) while they were hunting squirrels.
In 2006, the Hunter Incident Clearinghouse reported 3 deaths and 38 hunting-related shooting accidents in kids and teens. The youngest was just 5-years-old. To get more recent hunting accident statistics, you will likely have to go to each state’s wildlife conservation agency and try to find it (which is exactly what I’m doing.)
The National Shooting Sports Foundation likes to tout hunting accident statistics that rank hunting injuries as somewhere between playing billiards and bowling and much less than playing golf and tennis. To put this kind of thinking into perspective, though, compared to playing golf and tennis, isn’t a hunting injury that involves a shooting much more likely to be fatal? And it is these types of hunting-related shooting accidents that people are concerned about.
That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t take your kids hunting. You just want to do it as safely as possible to help reduce your child’s risk of getting hurt and to avoid these types of hunting accidents and tragedies which have been reported in the last few years:
- A 14-year-old in Calaveras County, California who died after he was unintentionally shot by a 16-year-old while they were hunting.
- A 17-year-old in Anderson County, South Carolina who died after she was unintentionally shot in the back by her stepfather with his high-powered rifle as they hunted deer.
- A 10-year-old in Cache County, Utah who died after he was unintentionally shot by a hunting companion who was removing his rifle from the front of a four-wheeler, when it fired.
- A 16-year-old from Exeter, California who died while hunting with family and friends after he was unintentionally shot when he wandered in front of the other hunters.
- A 14-year-old from Palisade, Colorado who died after he was shot in the chest while bow hunting with his father.
- A 12-year-old in Stephens County, Oklahoma who was hospitalized after his 10-year-old brother unintentionally shot him in his backside after he tripped and fell with a gun in his hand while hunting.
- A 15-year-old in Minot, North Dakota who died while hunting with his father during the opening weekend of deer season.
- A man near Butte, Montana who was in a critical condition after he was unintentionally shot in the abdomen by a 13-year-old in his hunting party who was unloading his rifle.
Keep in mind that these incidents don’t include the perhaps even more common scenario of when a child or teen unintentionally shoots an adult in his hunting party. This happened recently when a 12-year-old shot a man he was hunting with in Iowa when his shotgun accidentally went off.
Image: Read more here: https://everytownresearch.org/reports/innocents_lost/
All of these reports are freely available (and there are hundreds). Furthermore these deaths and few accidents could have been avoided – had the young children been professionally educated, and monitored. Furthermore increasing the hunting age limit from 10-16 years of age (in most states) to above 18 years of age. Meanwhile in other states where there are no laws, or even the whiff of any gun control regulation, actually introducing such regulations and laws, and as stated above (ensuring that no one applies for a hunting permit or firearms license until 18 years of age or over).
International Hunter Education Association. Hunter Incident Clearinghouse. 2007 Incident Summary. Accessed January 2013.
National Center for Injury Prevention and Control. WISQARS Nonfatal Injury Reports and Injury Mortality Reports. Accessed December 2012.
Study Guide for California Hunter Education Certificate. Accessed January 2013.
Keeping to the mental health side of things – back in 2010 the United Kingdom witnessed one of its worst firearms crimes seen since the Dunblane school massacre. Mr Derrick Bird whom fulfilled all the rifle and gun ownership laws (the strongest gun laws on the planet), as well as passing mental health assessments, shot dead 12 people, injuring a further 11 individuals, before taking his own life. The question is why did he decide that day to open up his gun cabinet and rampage through Cumbria killing many (and himself)?
WHY DID DERRICK BIRD KILL 12 PEOPLE BACK IN 2010?
First lets take a look at how Mr Bird was able to qualify for a gun and hunting licence. Getting a licence is a long and complicated business. Every stage of the process is designed to reduce the likelihood of a gun falling into the wrong hands. It starts with an application form which asks specific questions about why the individual wants a gun, telling them they need to show “good reason”.
The criteria are tougher for firearms than shotguns because weapons that fire bullets must only be used for specific purposes in specific places. These would include deer stalking or sports shooting on an approved range. In contrast, shotguns tend to be used in more general rural circumstances, such as by farmers who are protecting livestock from foxes – and police recognise that landowners need guns for pest control.
Independent referees provide confidential character statements in which they are expected to answer in detail about the applicant’s ‘mental state, home life and attitude towards guns’. Officers check the Police National Computer for a criminal record and they speak to the applicant’s GP for evidence of alcoholism, drug abuse or signs of personality disorder. Social services can also be asked for reasons to turn down an applicant. Finally, senior officers must be sure that prospective shotgun holders have a secure location for the weapon, typically a dedicated gun cabinet. Each certificate is valid for five years.
Mr Bird passed all the criteria for gun ownership, including a mental health examination, and drug and alcohol abuse surveys. Social services also assessed the applicant and stated that Mr Bird was in full state of mind, with no obvious signs of violence, nor was there any cause for concern relating to mental health problems.
However something changed, and that was Mr Birds mental health, which deteriorated rapidly resulting in 12 people being shot dead at point blank range, including a further two dozen more injuries. To date no one really knows for sure why Mr Bird decided that day in June 2010 to go on a killing spree.
Image: Mr Bird’s victims all shot at point blank range
However when Forensic Psychiatrists eventually delved deeper into Mr Birds past life right up to the day he began killing, then unearthed many ‘stress factors’. We know that stress can if not relieved lead to various forms of mental health problems, breakdowns or overloads to the point that an individual eventually explodes. It was stated that Mr Bird reached a ‘stress tipping point’ thus seeing no way out. From there he then killed, before taking his own life.
There has been speculation that Bird may have had a grudge against people associated with the Sellafield nuclear power plant that he worked for as a joiner, resigning in 1990 due to an allegation of theft of wood from the plant (stress 1). He was subsequently convicted, and given a 12-month suspended sentence. Three of the dead were former employees although there is no evidence that any were involved with his resignation.
Terry Kennedy, a fellow taxi driver who described himself as one of Bird’s best friends, and was wounded by Bird, has claimed that Bird had a relationship with a Thai girl he met on holiday in Pattaya, Thailand. It has been further claimed by another friend of Bird that he had sent £1,000 to the girl, who subsequently ended their relationship via a text message; he added that Bird had been “made a fool out of” (stress 2).
It has also been speculated that Bird had been involved with a family dispute over his father’s will. The speculation was heightened when it was revealed that Bird had targeted both his twin, David, and the family’s solicitor, Kevin Commons, in his attacks, killing both (stress 3).
Police investigating the killings have also found that Bird was the subject of an ongoing tax investigation by HM Revenue and Customs for tax evasion and the threat of possible future prosecution and punishment might have contributed to his action (stress 4). According to Mark Cooper, a fellow taxi driver who had known him for 15 years, Bird had accumulated £60,000 in a secret bank account and was worried he would be sent to prison for hiding the cash from HM Revenue & Customs.
So we know of four ‘speculated stresses’ that may have built up and up in Mr Birds personal life, of which its highly likely he eventually saw red, removed the firearms from his cabinet and killed 12 people before killing himself. However prior to these killings Mr Bird was seen as a stable, easy going, and nice chap, fun loving, was “one of the lads”, and socialized like any other individual. Unfortunately all four speculated stresses are what Police believe eventually led to Mr Bird going on a killing rampage.
Under U.K. law every five years a gun holder must reapply for a firearms license. The same checks, interviews and examinations are undertaken during every re-application for that license. These checks are there to ensure that both the firearms holder is stable, and to ensure the public are kept safe.
In today’s society bullying, mental health problems, anti social behavior, drug and alcohol abuse, pier pressure, violence, murder, rape, family problems, divorce and unemployment Etc are on the increase. These problems are not just confined to the United States neither. While in the United Kingdom Mr Bird had undergone various aptitude checks, mental health and social service checks, these checks are not being carried out on the millions of young and adult American trophy hunters.
Image: Press report of Birds rampage
Furthermore as explained above there have been a wide number of people killed by gun owners – and gun owners that haven’t undergone the correct or even adequate training. So the number of questions remain are: Why are these checks not being carried out, how long is it going to be before we see a stressed out trophy hunting teenager or, young adult going on the rampage in Southern Africa or America, why are no mental health checks and more than professional firearms training not being carried out in America before young hunters visit the African continent?
Every month now I am witnessing younger adults hunting in Southern Africa using a wide range of high powered firearms. On researching these children I find they are still at school. Furthermore on going through their ‘open public Facebook and Twitter accounts’ I am reading various problems from pier pressure, family relation problems, drug and alcohol abuse, bullying, school pressure, down to personal relationship problems too.
Finally when researching through every single gun shooting in the U.K. and the U.S. you eventually find that all of these shooters were emotionally and mentally to some degree unstable. In my personal and expert opinion its now time we either banned American hunters from Southern Africa that haven’t undergone the strict training and mental health checks, we increase the trophy hunting age from 16 to 21, we ban minor hunting, or we ban Americans from entering Africa that wish to hunt?
I have written an incredibly long document to each Environmental Affairs Ministry in Southern Africa and every single United States Senator. We need this area of lax gun and animal welfare laws tightened immediately. Enough is enough. In my humble opinion all hunters must be screened by mental health, doing so will see a decrease in hunting accidents, hunting gun crimes, and an improvement in animal welfare and rights laws – with far less animals slaughtered at the hands of sadists.
Dr Jose C. Depre PhD. MEnvSc. BSc(Hons) Botany, PhD(NeuroSci) D.V.M.
Master of Environmental, Botanical & Human Science.