How much money should APA spend on gun control?

Has APA become something other than a psychological association?

How much money should APA (the American Psychological Association) spend on gun control?

I received an e-mail promoting gun control from APA today even though (1) I’ve already unsubscribed from all email communication from APA and (2) didn’t renew my APA membership this year. The email message indicated “You are receiving this message to help you make full use of APA resources. Your email address was obtained from the APA Membership database. Electronic communications, which costs a fraction of printing and mailing, is cost effective and timely. You can now select APA newsletters and research alerts you would like to receive; go to your MyAPA account to opt-in to the titles you want. To unsubscribe to promotional email, send a message to: or send regular mail to the address…” (Incidentally, I had already opted out of all of the available email opt-out options in my account).

The email that the American Psychological Association sent out today (3/6/2018) noted “on Saturday, March 24, we urge our members to come together in Washington, D.C. and around the globe to support the “March for Our Lives”. The March for Our Lives petition includes phrases like “Passing a law to ban the sale assault weapons like the ones used in Las Vegas, Orlando, Sutherland Springs, Aurora, Sandy Hook and, most recently, to kill 17 innocent people and injure more than a dozen others at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Of the 10 deadliest shootings over the last decade, seven involved the use of assault weapons. No civilian should be able to access these weapons of war, which should be restricted for use by our military and law enforcement only. These guns have no other purpose than to fire as many bullets as possible and indiscriminately kill anything they are pointed at with terrifying speed.” It also includes a call for “Prohibiting the sale of high-capacity magazines such as the ones the shooter at our school—and so many other recent mass shootings used…”

The email that the American Psychological Association just sent to apparently everyone with an email address in the APA membership database gives a brief and seemingly reasonable rationale: “As a scientific organization, APA routinely advocates for a public health approach to gun violence prevention and supports evidence-based programs and policies that can reduce the occurrence and impact of firearm-related violence in the United States.” What they don’t mention is that they’ve signed on to specific things which some of their membership may not agree with and really has little to do with psychology or evidence-based programs and policies. For example, the American Psychological Association has signed this “CALL FOR ACTION TO PREVENT GUN VIOLENCE IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: Interdisciplinary Group on Preventing School and Community Violence” from February 28, 2018. This statement includes things like calling for “a ban on assault-style weapons, high-capacity ammunition clips, and products that modify semi-automatic firearms to enable them to function like automatic firearms.” Amusingly, of course, using the term “clips” suggests that the authors of the document likely have little firearms-related knowledge as the appropriate term to have used would have been magazines.

The gun control documents APA has endorsed do not really define what they consider an “assault weapon” or “high capacity” magazine. However, if we take the definition defined by the bill H.R.5087 – Assault Weapons Ban of 2018 (and things that have previously been enacted in places like NY and California), APA’s position could become problematic to some members. In addition, it may run afoul of the current interpretation of the second amendment that the Supreme Court has given us through decisions like District of Columbia v. Heller and in McDonald v. City of Chicago.

From Wikipedia:
The Supreme Court held:[45]

(1) The Second Amendment protects an individual right to possess a firearm unconnected with service in a militia, and to use that arm for traditionally lawful purposes, such as self-defense within the home. Pp. 2–53.
(a) The Amendment’s prefatory clause announces a purpose, but does not limit or expand the scope of the second part, the operative clause. The operative clause’s text and history demonstrate that it connotes an individual right to keep and bear arms. Pp. 2–22.
(b) The prefatory clause comports with the Court’s interpretation of the operative clause. The “militia” comprised all males physically capable of acting in concert for the common defense. The Antifederalists feared that the Federal Government would disarm the people in order to disable this citizens’ militia, enabling a politicized standing army or a select militia to rule. The response was to deny Congress power to abridge the ancient right of individuals to keep and bear arms, so that the ideal of a citizens’ militia would be preserved. Pp. 22–28.
(c) The Court’s interpretation is confirmed by analogous arms-bearing rights in state constitutions that preceded and immediately followed the Second Amendment. Pp. 28–30.
(d) The Second Amendment’s drafting history, while of dubious interpretive worth, reveals three state Second Amendment proposals that unequivocally referred to an individual right to bear arms. Pp. 30–32.
(e) Interpretation of the Second Amendment by scholars, courts and legislators, from immediately after its ratification through the late 19th century also supports the Court’s conclusion. Pp. 32–47.
(f) None of the Court’s precedents forecloses the Court’s interpretation. Neither United States v. Cruikshank, 92 U. S. 542, nor Presser v. Illinois, 116 U. S. 252, refutes the individual-rights interpretation. United States v. Miller, 307 U. S. 174, does not limit the right to keep and bear arms to militia purposes, but rather limits the type of weapon to which the right applies to those used by the militia, i.e., those in common use for lawful purposes.

The proposed assault weapons ban suggests that any magazine with more than 10 rounds is a “high capacity” magazine. It also restricts other things from semi-automatic handguns which suggests that they would be classified as an assault weapon even if their magazine held 10 rounds or less. Amusingly, the features that they list would also classify some firearms used for target shooting as assault weapons. Sadly, even a handgun with a 10 round magazine that is used primarily for plinking cans with 22lr ammunition like the Smith and Wesson M&P 22 compact would be labeled an assault weapon because it only comes with a threaded barrel (something someone could use to attach a suppressor (aka silencer) that would protect their hearing and the hearing of others around them). Also, what the bill labels as “high capacity” magazines are actually a large number of the semi-automatic handguns in common use. For example the Glock 17, a popular handgun, comes standard with a 17 round magazine (7 more than the 10 allowed). The “assault weapons” that are being discussed in the ban actually refer to a large number of the semi-automatic weapons currently in common use by civilians in the United States for lawful purposes such as defense of themselves and their families (and making “fun funner” by shooting cans and balloons on the range such as in the case of the M&P 22c). So when someone says “no one is after your guns” and they just want to get rid of those nasty high capacity assault weapons– please be sure they know what the heck everyone is actually talking about. Chances are given the definitions being used that person is actually talking about many of the guns that are in common use for lawful purposes by civilians (at least the bills that are being proposed related to “assault weapons” include a huge percentage of the guns that are in common use by civilians for lawful purposes).

The “assault weapons” ban that the American Psychological Association (APA) may be seen to be promoting is not simply “weapons of war” as referenced by the petition on the website for March for Our Lives that APA apparently sent every single member in their member database an email about (here is the petition paragraph to refresh your memory: No civilian should be able to access these weapons of war, which should be restricted for use by our military and law enforcement only. These guns have no other purpose than to fire as many bullets as possible and indiscriminately kill anything they are pointed at with terrifying speed). APA can be seen as helping to advance gun control proposals that (1) not all members would agree with but more importantly (2) have very little to do with psychological science.

I brought up the disturbing issue of APA tending to focus more on social issues than what their members need them to focus on in my candidate statement this past year. I wrote things like: “Let’s skip the social agendas trying to make APA a battleground in the culture wars. APA is now a parasite on psychologists. It gorges on our lifeblood then
diverts it to unrelated social issues that hijack the association. Ironically, the average psychologist now earns less money than the average salary of APA’s employees. This must change; APA wasn’t formed to advance APA.”

Now, with APA planning to likely end the APA Practice Organization and instead spend 501(c)(6) advocacy money on a broader range of issues, I am left to wonder- what is to stop APA from spending less and less on practice and more and more 501(c)(6) money on issues like gun control? The APA emailing every member in the APA membership database (even people like me who’ve already opted out of all of the emails APA sends) and inviting them to march for gun control makes me nervous. It makes me nervous that the plan to end APAPO and instead have an APAIP (American Psychological Association Institute for Psychology) may lead to our advocacy money being spent on things that are very dubiously related to psychology (for example, making it so we can’t purchase “assault weapons” like this one in this video).

How much money do you think APA should spend on gun control? Apparently on March 23 you can “come to APA headquarters (750 First St., NE, Washington, DC 20002) to pick up materials such as badges and stickers and to customize your own sign.” I think even the money APA will spend on “materials such as badges and stickers and to customize your own sign” is too much. Hey, this is particularly considering that supposedly our 501(c)(6) has been in such a financial crisis that it needs to be reorganized and broadened away from just practitioners. It is sad to say that while the way our 501(c)(6) funds have been spent via the APA Practice Organization (APAPO) has not been particularly transparent to members, the way a newly reorganized and broad-missioned APAIP would spend 501(c)(6) funds might become even less transparent (and even less related to psychology). Unfortunately, APA appears to have become more focused on taking a side in the trending politics of the day rather than advancing psychology. I think it is also fair to say that APA is now advocating for gun control as well.

Thanks for your time,

Todd Finnerty


Update: The new-ish 501(c)(g) will likely be called American Psychological Association Services, Inc. (APASI), not APAIP, but both the 501 (c)(3) APA and 501(c)(6) APASI organization will likely just be known publicly as APA.