VT Part II--Guns and Crazy People

Thursday, May 03, 2007

I don't recall if it was the same day or the day after, but we started to get an idea pretty quickly that Cho suffered from some kind of mental illness, which prompted the question, "how was he allowed to buy a gun?" If you have ever purchased a firearm from a dealer, then you filled out a BATFE form 4473. Among the questions it has, it asks if you have ever been "adjudicated mentally defective" or "committed to a mental institution." There is a substantial amount of case law on what this means and it varies from state to state. For the most part, in MI, it means that you cannot own a firearm under any of these conditions:

1. You have been involuntarily admitted to a psychiatric facility for a mental illness or substance abuse. This would not apply if it was only for observation or if you were released and discharge papers said you were not mentally ill.

2. A court has found you unable to care for yourself or manage your own affairs. This doesn't have to be for a mental illness. It could be for something else, such as a closed head injury.

3. You have been found not guilty by reason of insanity.

For the most part, this law is ok. The bar is set pretty high for involuntary admissions and incompotency adjudications. These people are supposedly a danger to themselves or others. I do have a few problems with this system. This ban is a lifetime ban. If you recover from one of these things it doesn't matter, you are still not permitted to ever own a firearm. I think that there should be some process where you can have your right restored by filing a motion and providing evidence that you are no longer a danger to yourself or others. The other problem I have is that most people facing possible admission are not aware that they face a possible lifetime ban on owning firearms. From my own involvement, I have never heard a judge inform the person about this law. I also wonder if their lawyer has informed them.

The above mentioned conditions are supposed to be reported to the federal government and placed in the National Instant Check System (NICS). After you fill out the 4473, the saleperson makes a call to the NICS and gives them you name, address and SSN. You can be approved, denied, or delayed. Presumably, if you fall under one of the barred categories, you will be denied. From what I have read, Cho was involuntarily admitted, but then released. I also believe he may have had his record expunged, which would have removed him from a denied category.

Despite my concerns, I am comfortable with denying firearms to people that are currently suicidal or homicidal. There needs to be due process and it cannot be made on just the owrd of one professional. There have been numerous calls to make changes to the law. Some have been minor and mostly involve increasing funding to the NICS. Others have called for expanding the definition of who cannot own firearms to encompass a larger group of the mentally ill. This is a major problem and we should not easily deny a right to any group. There is evidence that shows some groups of mentally ill are at a higher risk of violent behavior. Most seem to suggest that this risk may be better explained by substance abuse or poverty. Additionally, the rate of violence is still relatively low. The perception that mentally ill people are dangerous is mostly a myth.

I think that expanding the ban on the mentally ill from owning firearms is a bad idea and we would be better served at focusing on how we could improve services and access to services. The budget for mental health services in MI has remained the same for the past 8 years or so, despite an increase in costs. We could also benefit from re-opening mental hospitals, with modern, humane treatment methods. Many of the people that should be in those hispitals are instead in prison. Our current system is not the answer. I am not placng the blame for Cho's actions on the mental health system. Hindsight is 20/20, but I do think that society would benefit from improvement in this area.


B Mac,  12:12 PM  

I agree completely. Trying to stop mentally unbalanced people from owning guns reminds me of the Robin Williams line from "Good Morning Vietnam," where he talks about the search for Viet Cong:

"And we say to them, 'are you the enemy?' And if they say yes, we shoot them."

Of course it's a good idea to try to stop suicidal or homicidal people from buying guns. But most people don't say to the clerk, "I'd like to buy a handgun capable of killing my bitch of an ex-girlfriend, please."

Mental health still has a stigma in this country. Combine that with the piss-poor funding we have provided for mental health care, and you have a recipe for untreated individuals with serious issues.

In this country, if you want a gun, you can get a gun. The only way to reduce or eliminate horrible incidents like Va Tech is to pay more attention to mental health care. It's a lot like the War on Drugs, in that demand creates its own supply: when it becomes clear that supply is a bottomless well, it might be time to go after the root cause (the demand).

Smitty 12:53 PM  

I'd like to buy a handgun capable of killing my bitch of an ex-girlfriend, please.

Except Borat.

Post a Comment


Potential Drunks

Search This Blog

  © Blogger template On The Road by Ourblogtemplates.com 2009

Back to TOP