Friday, December 14, 2018
Earlier this year, the teenage son of a friend of mine hid in a classroom in his high school, desperately texting his father, while an angry young man with guns murdered classmates, teammates and friends in his school. School officials and local police knew the shooter, knew he was unstable, yet the guns were purchased legally though a licensed firearms dealer. Sadly, that was just one of several such occurrences this year. And nothing has been done to keep guns out of the hands of unstable people in this country.
I am a gun owner. My grandfather gave me my first rifle when I was a teenager. I have fired thousands and thousands of rounds from rifles, shotguns, revolvers, and pistols. I own at least one of each. (And I know the difference between them, and how to handle them safely.) My guns have never hurt anyone or any animal. There is no risk in me owning guns as long as the two of us remain mentally well and stable, and I reasonably control access to them by angry or mentally unstable people. I live in a state with relatively simple gun laws. My guns do not have to registered or licensed. Only if I want to carry a concealed weapon would I need a state license. In my state you can open carry (carry a weapon - including a firearm in public as long as it is readily visible), I don't, it is rare to see.
We have laws in this country requiring a background check for "most" firearms purchases. Not all sales, private sales and gifts are difficult to track, and even in places where they try, criminals sell guns outside of the system. Short of amending the Constitution, it will be difficult or impossible to regulate private sales, or gifts.
Persons banned from buying guns through licensed dealers include persons convicted of serious crimes, persons who have committed domestic violence, and persons who are mentally unfit.
The system breaks down, in a failure to report persons who shouldn't have guns. Persons with serious unresolved anger issues, persons who are delusional, or paranoid. All too often after a mass shooting, we hear that the person had an encounter with law enforcement, or mental health before the shooting and the professionals were concerned, but the person didn't meet the state criteria for reporting, or the system to report simply didn't work. Many states require that a person be involuntarily hospitalized or found to be a person in need of protection by a court in a mental health proceeding before the name can be included in a database. Those are extreme measures, last resorts, that are invoked for a fraction of persons with serious mental challenges. For domestic violence the name does not go on the list in most states unless the victim goes to court and gets a restraining order - many victims remain with their abuser and try to work things out. Those violent perpetrators don't end up in the no-sale database.
We need to fix the system to expand reporting. In doing so we need to provide due-process to challenge being on the no-sale list.
All too often a professional saw the warning signs that a person was likely to become violent, and didn't or couldn't report.
We need to improve access to mental health care. Mental health needs to be on parity with physical health, and those without insurance need to have access to free or very low cost counseling.
I am not advocating taking all the guns away. I am just saying, keep guns out of the hands of people we all agree are a risk to the public if they have access to guns. The extremists on both side of this issue, need to come to the middle. If we can't agree that a person who is paranoid and angry shouldn't have guns, what can we agree on?