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Mental Health and You Firearms License

Posted by Glen Thurston on

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With so many changes to firearms licensing regulations over the last few years, it’s really no surprise that even the police don’t seem to understand them let alone the health practitioners that have been dragged into the whole cluster. Particularly the fact you can actually surrender your licence if you are having some difficulty with for example mental health.

Turn The Corner is the brainchild of mental health advocate Glen Thurston. Earlier this year Glen complete 53 summits or Corner Peak (1300m of vertical) in 53 days to highlight and protest the average yearly number of 53 suicides in the New Zealand construction industry.

With regards to mental health, we’ve all by now heard the horror scenarios of people asking for help with their mental health, only to have the police show up to remove their firearms. Which in turn creates worse outcomes for the person's mental health, and in some cases I know of has affected their livelihoods due to using firearms professionally.

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In 2019 Glen also became a victim of this exact revocation process that was due to him doing all the right things and seeking help and support from mental health services.

“When my licence was revoked, sure i was angry, upset and actually went down hill even further. But a week or so into my revocation I realised that this was way more than just me losing the use of a firearms. I realised this was a barrier that once people started to realise this was happening it was going to prevent a very large population of people to NOT seek help when they needed too. Since that day I decided two things. First I was going to get my licence back..! Then I was going to dedicate all of my spare time to finding answers and see how we can fix this political cock up”

Which gets me to the purpose of this article, which is to highlight that there now is another way to deal with these scenarios, but it does require you and your hunting buddy’s to be proactive. What is available now to anyone is the ability to surrender your licence and store your firearms with another firearms licence holder until you have worked through whatever mental distress it was that got you there in the first place. If this takes longer than 30 days which in most cases, I’d imagine it will, then you would have to update the registry by transferring the firearms to the licence holder who is looking after them, which is really a minor hurdle.

The Firearms Safety Authority advises “If Police attend an incident relating to mental health, they may seize the firearms/licence for safekeeping until The Firearms Safety Authority have reviewed the incident and made a decision around the licence, at this point you will cease to be licensed to possess firearm, but you may still be able to shoot under direct supervision during the decision-making process”.

So, what this means is that if you are proactive in recognizing that you or a mate is having some issues, that you can surrender your licence before things get too bad. That way avoiding police intervention and the potential for a licence review, or revocation and a lengthy appeal process.

For many people going down this path will end in a much better outcome, where they can focus on getting back to full health without the added stressor of your licence status being up in the air. This also means that you can continue to hunt supervised by mates and get the mental and physical benefits of being out in the hills. Which is a much better outcome than the horror scenarios of your licence instantly being pulled and having the uncertainty of the review process and the potential for revocation and the mandatory 5 year stand down period where you legally cannot even touch a firearm with or without supervision.

There is still the issue of health practitioners notifying the police of any concerns they may have around you holding a licence, and how that collides with their personal views towards firearms. The Firearms Safety Authority advises “Health Practitioners must consider The Firearms Safety Authority if they have reason to believe their patient is a firearms licence holder and they consider the person’s health condition may impact the safety of themselves or the public if they continue to have access to firearms.

However, it is important to note that health practitioners are not the final decision makers on a person’s fit and proper status to be a firearms licence holder. If health practitioners provide information to Firearms Safety Authority, it is not the only piece of information The Firearms Safety Authority can consider when deciding on someone’s firearms licence status. The Firearms Safety Authority will also consider information from other sources before reaching a decision.”

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In my view it’s also worth noting just which health professionals are bound by these washy rules, as for example a life coach may be of great use in getting someone back on track, yet they are not considered a health professional in this legislation.

At the end of the day for the above surrender suggestion work, it requires all of us to be proactive and look out for each other. Seeing the signs in your mates and reaching out to them could not only potentially save their life but the chances are that you have just saved the person from going down a long dark lonely road. Creating open discussion will help change the culture of not talking and save those struggling with acute depression by giving them the opportunity to get things off their chest and out in the open and potentially not needing medical intervention of any kind.

Glen has dedicated a huge amount of time not only raising awareness but encouraging others to get educated just like we do with our first aid.

“Let's not wait until we lose someone we love to Suicide before doing something about it. Get educated now. When someone dies from suicide, we all say we didn’t see that coming. Well of course you didn't because how would you see the signs if you haven't done any training on how to relate and respond to someone in mental distress. “

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If you have created an open conversation and you know your mate needs more professional help, then offer to make them an appointment and personally take them yourself to the doctor. BUT before you do that, offer to store their firearms for them. This way If the GP asks the question, then you have already made the proactive steps in being a responsible firearms licence holder and there is a high probability that the GP would not notify the firearms safety authority. 

Glen’s own years long battle with severe depression involved suicide attempts at age 18 and then the demons came back again in his late 30’s. Using alcohol helped him to “turn the brain off”, numb the feeling of depression and lighten the load of a stressful job. Seven years ago he really hit rock bottom and this became a real turning point in his life. He is now seven years sober and has worked with many health practitioners and continues to thrive as a Husband and Father of three.

“I was very lucky to have not made the biggest irreversible mistake of my life, my wife came out to me in the kitchen knowing I was drunk and not in a very good space. Although I was drunk I’m pretty certain that if she didn’t come into the kitchen that night I just may not be here now. We’ve been married 20 years now, and she has been so supportive of my depression, so the least I can do is sort my shit out. I not only owe it to her and my daughters but i owe it to myself”

Immediately after seeking help his firearms license was revoked, taking away his “happy place” that he turned to when he needed clarity or to shift focus.

"When I get in the mountains, it's like me meditating"

"I get in the now and answer any problems or any thoughts that go through my head and just feel really good when I get home, I'm reset. If I happen to be lucky enough to also harvest an animal to feed my family the rewards are even greater"

After a lengthy appeal process, Glen managed to get his license back and get back into the mountains and he has now set out to create awareness and normalize the discussion of these issues within the hunting community. Glen openly manages his illness and is on a regular antidepressant which he says is a far better option then the self medicating he was doing with the booze. Keep an eye out for his upcoming YouTube series “MentalHunts” which he and friend Sam Manson will take you hunting in some epic places, whilst discussing with guests all things firearms and mental health.

"I ended up making those changes and life is great! I've come out the other side”

Sure the process is still not perfect but it is definitely better than it was 4 years ago and continues to improve. The Firearms safety authority also know there is still more work to do but at least they recognise that. They are little steps at the moment but they are positive steps non the less.

Glen is very open to any conversations relating to firearms and mental health and opens his doors to anyone who would like to discuss his situation further or needs some guidance in this space or just wants to talk to someone neutral.

Contact Glen Via his or MentalHunts facebook page.

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