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Monday, August 31, 2015

Firearm Background Checks & Mental Health

After the horrific murder of WDBJ journalists, Alison Parker and Adam Ward, and the serious wounding of Vicki Gardner by gunman Vester Flanagan, it came to light that the killer passed a firearms background check and was able to purchase his two guns legally. So, it got me thinking…what exactly does passing a firearms background check entail? From the FBI’s website:

Federal law prohibits, from possessing or receiving a firearm, any person who:

Has been convicted in any court of a crime punishable by imprisonment for a term exceeding one year;
Is a fugitive from justice;
Is an unlawful user of or addicted to any controlled substance;
Has been adjudicated as a mental defective or committed to a mental institution;
Is illegally or unlawfully in the United States;
Has been discharged from the Armed Forces under dishonorable conditions;
Having been a citizen of the United States, has renounced U.S. citizenship;
Is subject to a court order that restrains the person from harassing, stalking, or threatening an intimate partner or child of such intimate partner;
Has been convicted in any court of a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence;
Is under indictment/information for a crime punishable by imprisonment for a term exceeding one year.

Since the killer passed all of the above, and if the hope is to keep guns out of the hands of those crazy enough to actually use it on another person, more action than mandating background checks at gun shows, etc. needs to be done. The killer passed a background check. It doesn’t matter how many more places he’d have to submit his info, he passed it. Clearly, the law needs to add “more” to the background check. And the “more” needs to focus on mental health condition.

Now, bear in mind I am no expert on guns, background checks, etc. so I have some questions. When a check is run, what agency supplies the information that the individual has been committed to an institution, or adjudicated as a mental defective, and, what qualifies as mental defective? I would say the WDBJ gunman was definitely defective mentally. Of course he would have had a differing opinion. Is it as simple as not checking a box on the application? I’m assuming most of the info can be cross-checked via courts, but are there some questions answered that are self-reporting, such as the ones dealing with mental defectiveness and drug use?

If so, passing a background check for a firearm bears about the same weight as a used car passing a Carfax report as Carfax really is only as good as the information that is reported to it. Oh sure, all those maintenance visits will be duly noted, but what about that little fender bender that was fixed by a shade tree mechanic that didn’t go through insurance? If no one reports it, did it really happen?

What about violent outbursts, delusional thoughts, and sociopath behavior exhibited to a mental health professional who was treating someone with these symptoms? Patient/client privilege? If no one reports it, did it really happen? What about violent outbursts, delusional thoughts, and sociopath behavior exhibited to fellow co-workers? Do past employers report that somewhere? Do they reveal that when questioned by another potential employer regarding an individual? Or, are they afraid of being sued, so they keep their mouths shut? If no one reports it, did it really happen? Of course it does. It just did. Why does it have to take a tragedy before folks open up and express their past run-ins with someone who has a mental health problem?

If we are to see a decrease in unimaginable acts of violence, gun control alone should not be the only focus. Mental health needs to be a primary focus. Let me be clear, I have no problem tightening up loopholes and/or expanding background checks, etc., I just don’t think that is the solution. Again, Flanagan passed the firearms background check. Would he have as easily passed a mental health background check?

And if we know someone needs mental help via exhibiting dangerous behavior, and is a harm to themselves or others, etc., shouldn’t we be able to report it to someone, somewhere without the fear of being threatened, harmed, or sued by that person? There are signs all over the New York City subway, “See something, Say something.” Shouldn’t we employ the same practice everywhere, if by doing so, we could prevent a tragedy from happening? But…who do we tell? And…will they do anything about it?

The bottom line is "something" needs to be done. Yes, we need to address gun control. Yes, we need to address mental health issues.  No family should have to endure the pain of losing their loved one at the hand of a sociopath, no matter what weapon they use.

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