[Ed: Dr. Petrocelli’s is the fourth of the talks that the DRGO leadership team gave September 20 online for the Second Amendment Foundation’s 35th annual Gun Rights Policy Conference. See each of our talks on the DRGO YouTube channel or at 2:17:23 here. The entire schedule of talks is here, divided into 4 parts on the SAF channel].
Greetings to everybody at the Second Amendment Foundation’s Gun Rights Policy Conference.
I want to thank all the members at Second Amendment Foundation who have made it possible, and in particular to thank my colleagues at Doctors for Responsible Gun Ownership for allowing me to share time with them in presenting to you today.
I’m Dr. Dennis Petrocelli. I am a forensic psychiatrist and I have studied human violence and aggression and the evaluations of human violence for the past 20 years. Today, I want to focus on Red Flag Laws and, in particular, I’d like to make the point that the due process deficiencies of Red Flag Laws are very likely the least problematic parts of them. That’s because these laws lack fundamental fairness. The reason for that is that we don’t have any form of risk assessment that could possibly accomplish what Red Flag Laws challenge us to do. That is, to identify persons who are at great imminent risk of violence with a gun absent illegal behavior leading up to that risk assessment.
But first, let me emphasize that those of us who do this kind of work, with the exception of those about set Doctors Responsible Gun Ownership, are extremely biased against gun owners. In Gun Violence: Psychiatry, Risk Assessment and Social Policy, Dr. Liza Gold, a forensic psychiatrist, wrote “the cumulative implication of this evidence is that the prevalence of guns is a high risk factor for gun violence and restricting access to firearms decreases firearms-related morbidity and mortality.” She is essentially saying that the presence of guns is sufficient for there to be risk. Given that that will be the mindset of most evaluators, I don’t see how evaluees can possibly get a fair shake. Continuing along the line of bias, it should be noted that most systems of risk assessment inadequately document those factors about people that mitigate risk. So for instance, because we are very good at coming up with lists of aspects of a person’s past or current behavior or thinking that predisposes them to violence, we are much less able to identify those factors that mitigate that risk. And therefore when the assessment is done, it is very, very difficult for the evaluee to possibly come out looking not at risk.
If we consider then the assessment of some tools that we have, what we find is that they are entirely lacking given the challenges posed to them. In Hilliard Heintze’s review of the Virginia Beach Shooting, where a former employee entered an area that was gun free for employees only and killed 12 former colleagues. Their review showed they even if Virginia Beach had implemented its threat assessment team using the best technology that could be made available to them through, for example, the TAPS Act, this individual (despite the fact they had access to an enormous amount of data, posthumously of course) would not have risen to the level of concern. This shows that trying to anticipate and predict these events is virtually impossible.
If we then turn our attention to risk assessment, as presented by Dr. David Rosmarin in Massachusetts, he wrote that even if we use the best risk assessment methods available, most predictions of violence would be wrong 9 out of 10 times. If we took that statistical analysis and we applied it to concealed carry permit holders who, according to John Lott, PhD, commit only 2.4 firearm crimes per 100,000 permitees, we would find that under the best of circumstances, 5% of them would be wrongly predicted to commit violence. Given the preceding issues of bias, I think those numbers would be considerably greater.
Given all this data, my conclusion is that instead of trying to predict extraordinarily rare events with technology wholly inadequate to the task, it is far better to eliminate gun-free zones. And remember the first rule of gun safety means to keep your guns.
–Dennis Petrocelli, MD is a clinical and forensic psychiatrist who has practiced for nearly 20 years in Virginia. He took up shooting in 2019 for mind-body training and self-defense, and is in the fight for Virginians’ gun rights.