Firearms and cultural competence: considerations for mental health professionals

Date08 January 2018
Published date08 January 2018
AuthorGianni Pirelli,Philip Witt
Subject MatterHealth & social care,Criminology & forensic psychology,Aggression, conflict & peace,Sociology,Gender studies,Gender violence,Political sociology, policy & social change,Social conflicts,War/peace
Firearms and cultural competence:
considerations for mental health
Gianni Pirelli and Philip Witt
Purpose Although cultural competence is gaining increased attention among mental health practitioners,
such primarily has centered on race, religion, ethnicity, language, and nationality. Thus far, there has been
relatively little recognition of specific socialized subcultures aside from the aforementioned groups, and
virtually no discussion regarding those associated with various firearm-related subcultures. This topic is
particularly relevant to mental health practitioners, as positions on firearm use and ownership frequently split
across political party lines, and mental health professionals and academics are more likely to espouse liberal
rather than conservative views. It follows that practitioners may understand little about firearms culture and,
therefore, are at increased risk for biased decision making when working with clients for whom firearms have
relevance. The paper aims to discuss these issues.
Design/methodology/approach This paper takes a conceptual approach to reviewing potential areas of
bias in both clinical and clinical-forensic practice in the US context.
Findings The authors detail the prevalence of firearm-related issues in the USA, contextualize firearm-
related issues in forensic treatment and evaluation scenarios, delineate a number of firearm subgroups, and
recommend considerations for mental health professionals to develop cultural competence as it relates to
firearms and associated subcultures.
Originality/value This is an original conceptual study of cultural competence and various firearm-related
Keywords Risk assessment, Forensic psychology, Firearms, Forensic mental health assessment,
Gun culture, Guns
Paper type Conceptual paper
For its Guidelines on Multicultural Education, Training, Research, Practice, and Organizational
Change for Psychologists, the American Psychological Association (APA) (2002) adopted
Fiske et al. (1998) definition of culture: the belief systems and value orientations that influence
customs, norms, practices, and social institutions, including psychological processes (language,
care taking practices, media, educational systems) and organizations (media, educational
systems)(p. 8). Certainly, individuals possess a number of cultural identities extending beyond
sex, gender, race, religion, ethnicity, and language, and the APAs list of cultural identifies is
not exhaustive.
Practitioners should be attuned to subcultures within and across groups and avoid grouping
individuals according to one subcultural identity because doing so would neglect important
differences at the individual level. Indeed, Sue and Sue (2012) recommended practitioners take an
etic (culturally specific) rather than emic (cultura lly universa l) approach to th eir work and su ch
requires consideration of the numerous potential cultural identities of a person. Practicing in a
culturally competent manner that is, developing and utilizing the requisite knowledge, skills, and
awarenessto work effectively withclients with multiple cultural identitiesis a critical component of
competentmental health practice.This is clear in the APAsE thicalP rinciples of Psychologists and
Code of Conduct (EPPCC) (2010), which indicates that cultural competence forms the bedrock of
the fields moral code, values, and vision. It is also important to note that, although a focus tends to
Received 19 January 2017
Revised 21 March 2017
27 April 2017
Accepted 1 May 2017
Gianni Pirelli is a Licensed
Psychologist based in Verona,
New Jersey, USA.
Philip Witt is a Forensic
Psychologist at Associates in
Psychological Services,
Somerville, New Jersey, USA.
DOI 10.1108/JACPR-01-2017-0268 VOL. 10 NO. 1 2018, pp.61-70, © Emerald Publishing Limited, ISSN 1759-6599
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