SHOULD ALL PSYCHIATRISTS CARRY GUNS? by Art Smukler, author & psychiatrist

“Yo Dumplin. I’m home,” I called, swaggering into our ranch house. I swaggered because my sidearm, a Colt 45, weighed heavy on my right hip and made me walk funny.

“My hero,” Dumplin said, smiling, and dressed in a black bustier and long white skirt. “100,000 followers tweeted that you brought down another paranoid psychotic who would have killed dozens if you hadn’t taken brave and immediate action.”

“Aw shucks, sweetie. It was just in a days work. If the ACLU hadn’t called me a psychiatric Neanderthal and sued me and the hospitals hadn’t released my patient after 24 hours I wouldn’t be a hero. It was just dumb luck. Timing is everything.”

“You are so brave. I made your favorite vittles, spaghetti in a light, Bolognese sauce and a glass of 2007 Pinot Noir.”

Actually none of this is really funny.

The Community Mental Health system, which was started in the sixties, only succeeded in closing our state hospitals and filling our streets with untreated schizophrenics, bipolar disorders and paranoid disorders. Most are peace abiding but there are a percentage who are obviously dangerous.

What just happened at Fitzgerald Mercy Hospital in Philadelphia is horrifying. A man with a history of violence shot his social worker in the head, killing her, and wounded his psychiatrist, Dr. Lee Silverman. Dr. Silverman was able to use his own weapon and wound the assailant, who was then disarmed by colleagues.

When questioned, the police chief said that, “without a doubt, I believe the doctor saved lives.”

So; should mental health professionals start packing?

Most of the time, no. The chances of us shooting ourselves is a lot higher than hitting an assailant.

On the other hand, if one works with dangerous felons, that’s a different story. Maybe small arms training isn’t such a bad idea. Dr. Silverman made the correct and courageous decision, saving his own life and the lives of his colleagues.

I’m just waiting for the hospital, the ACLU or the assailant’s family to sue Dr. Silverman because he broke hospital protocol and carried a weapon. Sometimes I have a lot of trouble figuring out who’s crazier, the patients’ we’re trying to help or the people trying to protect these same patients from our ministrations…

Art Smukler is an award-winning psychiatrist and author of Chasing Backwards, a psychological murder mystery, Skin Dance, a mystery, and The Man with a Microphone in his Ear. All are available as paperbacks and eBooks.

11 thoughts on “SHOULD ALL PSYCHIATRISTS CARRY GUNS? by Art Smukler, author & psychiatrist

  1. Ha, the beginning is funny! The reality of it is not. We’ll probably never prevent all gun-related accidents or murders. However, in this country too many people who should not have guns, have them. And yes, there are people who should have a gun, and psychiatrists may certainly be among them.


  2. Art,

    Where do I begin?? First, I believe Dr. Silverman to be in the right as he recognized his position exposed him to dangerous “disturbed units”. Venice Beach is famous for its disturbed units, but they are generally harmless. This is a sad state of affairs when a mental health professional needs a firearm to protect himself and others when the laws and “system” cannot accomplish this function.

    Perhaps, there needs to be a relaxation of the doctor-patient confidentiality laws in such situations. If you were to have a patient with violent tendencies, I would have no problem with you advising the authorities that this is an individual who needs to be watched continually. The police might need to keep the person under surveillance for a few days or a few weeks, but eventually, the person intent on wrongdoing is going to purchase a firearm and head like a cruise missile toward his intended target. The person who is simply displaying bravado will soon fall off the radar……I hope.

    When I was young, I used to enjoy hunting and doing target practice with rifles. Although I don’t advocate the government seizing all legal weapons, I do believe that pressure from the NRA and other anti-gun control lobbyists to have removed common sense to a reasonable resolution of the problem with people who have the intent to do harm to others.

    How do you manage to come up with blog topics that evoke great discussion???? That’s why I enjoy your website.

    Mike Busman


    1. Thanks for your astute comments. There are definite laws that therapists must adhere to. A patient who is a danger to himself or others must be reported. It is a good and essential law. The problem is obviously patients who don’t divulge their suicidal or homocidal ideas.


  3. Dr. Smukler,
    In my opinion, as a 30 year retired law enforcement officer in Texas, I believe every law abiding citizen who wants to carry a firearm should carry one. I also believe, if a person decides to carry a firearm, he/she most definitely has to be properly trained in its use.
    Thank God the doctor in Pennsylvania was able to stop the offender at the hospital before the offender killed any one else.
    Joe Millhouse (235)
    Go Lancers!


  4. If the moment arrives when any of us would need a gun, it’s already too late for our lives to depend upon police intervention. If people know that morally they have the fortitude to shoot in order to save their own life or the lives of innocent others, we (society) need those individuals to be packing, properly trained, and ready to intervene.


  5. Kol HaKavod to Dr. Silverman. Common sense ain’t too common in the US anymore. Good to see that some people still have it. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with responsible concealed carry for well trained professionals in high risk situations.


  6. Glad you brought up the issue, Art. It was a terrifying situation in Philadelphia for sure. Speaking for myself, I don’t blame the doctor a bit. And as you say he was courageous enough to get out the gun and confront the patient. But this does bring up a larger issue. How do we prevent people with serious mental health issues from getting guns? Can anyone predict when patient X will have a meltdown and kill people? Should we not allow any person with mental health issues buy a gun? Surely, mental health professionals will immediately say that people will stop seeking help for their problems. So then what?


    1. Your comment points out the problem. Our government can’t deal with any kind of gun control, even assault weapons are protected by the gun lobby. So how do we regulate weapons with mentally ill people without removing all the due process laws we have? Maybe a civil rights attorney would know?


  7. I am not a gun enthusiast, but I certainly agree with you, “Sometimes I have a lot of trouble figuring out who’s crazier, the patients’ we’re trying to help or the people trying to protect these same patients from our ministrations…”


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