With a brand-new training certificate in hand, I entered the Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office and took the white marble stairwell down to room 22. The man behind the bullet-proof window received my certificate, driver’s license, a completed application and $100. He made copies, then casually asked how many people had attended my carry class.
“Fifteen,” I responded.
He smiled and handed me my receipt. “This is not a permit to carry,” he said. “It takes 30 days for approval. Don’t carry until you get it in the mail.”
That took all of two minutes. The entire process was easy, although it set me back $211. My criminal-background check came back clean. The carry permit, which also serves as a permit to purchase, arrived in the mail two weeks later.
The Minnesota Citizens’ Personal Protection Act (PPA) specified the two-part process I followed to legally carry a gun in Minnesota. First, I gave my county sheriff “evidence” of training in safe handling from a “certified” instructor. Second, my sheriff performed a criminal-background check.
Minnesota is a “shall issue” state, meaning the sheriff has no discretion to deny my permit without demonstrating a “substantial likelihood” that I pose a danger to myself or others. Even if I were denied, I could hire an attorney and appeal. But that wasn’t necessary. My permit was approved without so much as a welfare check. No one contacted my spouse or my doctor.
Had the county taken that one extra step, it would have learned about my diagnosis and treatment at the Minneapolis Veterans Medical Center for depression, PTSD and substance abuse stretching as far back as 1992. Without hesitation, my wife would have informed them that my medical record contains a V.A. psychiatrist’s note recommending that I “never own another gun.”
Taken together, this seems to rise to a level of “substantial likelihood.” But the decision is binary under the current law. There is no middle ground where I can maintain a reasonable expectation of privacy and at the same time protect myself when I’m healthy from times when I am not. This is a common blind spot in legislation throughout the U.S., and it affects a lot of good people with diagnoses like mine.
Sheriff’s departments conducting criminal-background checks lack the legal authority or infrastructure to query private psychiatric records for specific information that — when compared alongside records for court-ordered treatment — meet or exceed the legal litmus test for “substantial likelihood.” This dilemma is further complicated by mandates in federal law (HIPPA) requiring health insurers and health care providers to safeguard patient information.
But debating the supremacy of public policy vs. my civil rights is of little use for the moment, because for the next five years I can walk into any federal firearms licensee storefront in Minnesota and walk out with a semiautomatic pistol, high-capacity magazines and all of the ammunition I can afford.
How many permit holders are there like me in Minnesota? That’s impossible to tell. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that each year 6.7 percent of U.S. adults 18 or older experience a major depressive disorder. And nearly two-thirds “do not actively seek nor receive proper treatment,” according to the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance.
Doing the math, Minnesota can expect that thousands of the more than 200,000 citizens with permits to purchase — as many as 8,900 — will experience a major depressive disorder this year. Like me, they’re not appearing on the sheriff’s radar. Unlike me, they don’t receive treatment.
Let that sink in.
Joe McLean lives in Minneapolis.