A while back I was watching some episodes of National Geographic's "Doomsday Preppers" show, including one entitled "I Hope I am Crazy" that featured a guy from Tennessee. Most people on the show maintain arsenals of high-powered weapons. Some also exhibit signs of paranoid delusions, and most structure their lives around obsessive-compulsive behavior in the form of hoarding supplies and building elaborate fortifications. (Exhibit A: The guy from Tennessee.)
In a national conversation about gun violence, an obvious question is whether people who exhibit such signs of mental instability should have firearms. As the law stands today, there's nothing to prevent it.
In general, federal law prohibits purchase or possession of firearms by anyone who has been convicted of a felony, is a fugitive from justice, an unlawful user of controlled substances, has been adjudicated as a mental defective or admitted to a mental institution, is an illegal alien, has been dishonorably discharged from the military, has renounced their citizenship, or is subject to a restraining order. All of this is spelled out on ATF form 4473 which must be signed under penalty of perjury when purchasing a firearm.
The people featured on the Doomsday Prepper show don't fall under any of these categories (presumably), so they can buy as many assault rifles as they want despite being what some might view as a little bit crazy.
And what about others? Such as people who post anonymous threats of violence against defense lawyers on newspaper websites in response to articles about high-profile murder trials? Or those who advocate for "2nd Amendment remedies" to political disagreements? Or candidates for public office who threaten armed confrontation with the President at the state line if he comes to take our guns? Or an elected official who is arrested for DUI and found to be in possession of a loaded handgun? Or an elected official who allegedly threatened his wife with a gun? Or those who post comments on gun fetishist websites saying that the liberal teachers in Connecticut with their anti-gun beliefs are to blame for the tragedy in Newtown and not the psychopath who had easy access to legally purchased personal weapons of mass murder?
All of this occurred locally or in our state. And, as the law stands today, none of this behavior would prevent someone from legally purchasing firearms at any gun store in the state. Even if it did, there are no restrictions on private sales between individuals, even at gun shows.
And even with all these restrictions in the law, mentally unstable people slip through the cracks. Such as a local man who shot school officials in retaliation for being fired. And the Virginia Tech shooter. And the Tuscon shooter. And the Aurora shooter. And now, apparently, the Newtown shooter. All of them, except the Newtown shooter (we don't know yet) were able to legally purchase the weapons used to act out their violent fantasies. And in in every case except Newtown (so far), the shooter had a known history of mental illness.
I don't know the answer. What we're doing now, though, clearly isn't working. Should we require psychological testing to purchase a firearm? This would likely not pass Supreme Court muster. Should people report gun owners with suspected mental problems? That is ripe for abuse and still wouldn't prevent senseless gun violence because law enforcement couldn't act on it under current law. The policies we have now can only deal with gun violence after the fact when it's too late.
And by the way, it's also illegal to possess a firearm in a school zone. But psychopaths (and criminals) don't care about the law, except the law that allows them to legally purchase their weapons of mass mayhem.
As a footnote, the guy from Tennessee featured on Doomsday Preppers was in fact declared mentally defective stemming from a confrontation with his doctor during which he refused treatment for serious (and obvious) health problems. He was subsequently denied when he tried to purchase another handgun. Now he's a hero of the prepper and Second Amendment conspiracy nuts.
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