July 20, 2012: A mentally ill young man entered a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado armed for combat — with innocent movie-goers. He left 12 individuals dead, and 70 others wounded.
December 14, 2012: A young man with a personal history of emotional problems entered the Sandy Hook Elementary School, Newtown, Connecticut, and killed 20 children and 6 staff members.
In each of these three deadly incidents the person initiating the horror had a history of mental problems. NRS 202.360 seems to be clear about those who have serious psychiatric problems being among those classified as prohibited from the ownership of firearms, as in someone who “Has been adjudicated as mentally ill or has been committed to any mental health facility.” But wait? What is adjudication?
Adjudication is: “The giving or pronouncing a judgment or decree in a cause; also the judgment given.” Who pronouns a judgment or decree? — a judge. The commitment, we can assume, might be either voluntary or involuntary, and if involuntary comes with a requirement for the respect of individual civil rights. [NRS 433.471-472] In short, the loophole in Nevada law is that a seriously ill individual may retain his or her “right” to the possession of a firearm unless there is a court order on record.
This is tricky territory. Nearly all mentally ill individuals are NOT violent. However, we probably need to thank Jill Schaller of Reno, Nevada for preventing a tragedy when she found out her son, who had once been committed for mental health treatment, purchased a gun from a Reno police officer. Remember this part of the story?
“The young man told his parents about the gun purchase while on a vacation in Southern California last week. He promised to give the gun to his parents when they returned to Reno on Sunday night.But on the flight home, he texted Conklin, saying his mother was upset. Driving home, Schaller said, Conklin called and said she was sorry and that she was “not aware that you did not want a gun in your house.” Conklin offered to buy it back, but when they arrived home, Schaller said her son grabbed the gun and ran out the back door, so she called 911.” [RGJ]
The sale was “private” therefore under Nevada statutes no background check was required. However, the sale was still impermissible under the provisions of the Nevada Revised Statutes — the young man had been committed for mental health treatment. The terror Mrs. Schaller experienced when making that 911 call might have been prevented if Governor Sandoval had not vetoed SB 221 on June 13, 2013. (pdf) A background check could have discovered, should have discovered, that the young man in question was not one who should be in possession of a firearm.
Governor Sandoval, citing 2nd Amendment protections, and “undue burdens” on gun sellers, sided with the National Rifle Association and put his veto stamp on SB 221 which would have made a background check mandatory. Jill Schaller prevented a tragedy, nothing Governor Sandoval did served to prevent any negative outcome.
August 20, 2013: The unspeakable almost happened in Atlanta, Georgia. There but for the calm courage of Antoinette Tuff, the McNair Discovery Learning Academy could have ranked with Sandy Hook Elementary in the sad litany of school shootings. Instead, a mentally ill young man was calmed and mollified by a quick thinking, compassionate school employee.
September 16, 2013: Washington, D.C.
“A gunman killed a dozen people as the workday began at the Washington Navy Yard on Monday, creating an improbable moment of horror at a military facility with armed guards at every gate and leaving investigators seeking clues about what spurred the attack.
The FBI identified the shooter as Aaron Alexis, 34, of Fort Worth, who in 2011 received a general discharge from the Navy Reserve, a designation that usually signals a problem in his record. Alexis was arrested but not charged in a gun incident in Seattle in 2004 but still had a security clearance with a military contractor that allowed him access to the Navy Yard, officials said.” [WaPo]
We don’t know why Mr. Alexis went on this latest workplace rampage. What we can say is that a disturbed individual brought firearms into a workplace, and used them, on 12 innocent people to deadly effect.
And, now we’ll hear it all again.
The old bromide: “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people.” Yes, and armed people do kill other people. In fact, guns have killed 8,236 people have died by gunshot since the Sandy Hook tragedy. [Slate]
The old excuses: “It’s violent video games.” Interesting, but young people in Japan, the United Kingdom, Sweden, etc. play video games, but we’re the one country with the singularly highest death by gun fire on this planet.
The older excuses: “It’s mentally ill people!” No, actually it’s not most mentally ill individuals. Most mentally ill people aren’t violent — either to themselves or to others. But what happens when mentally ill people have easy access to firearms — and don’t have a concerned parent in the immediate vicinity to prevent the acquisition of a gun?
The latest excuse: “The Constitution preserves everyone’s right to bear arms.” Extrapolated to the extreme, and some folks are perfectly willing to take it there, “we” have a right to the armaments of war. Do we wait until there is a mass market for shoulder fired missile launchers before we draw the line? At what point does good old fashioned common sense limits on the acquisition and possession of firearms kick in?
The old distraction dodge: “But, but look…there are more murders in Chicago…” Yes, and we could be helping to prevent those, too, by enacting gun trafficking laws helping the cities like Chicago and New York rein in the importation of stolen and purchased guns from states with few if any common sense regulations.
There are answers for these excuses.
The American Public Health Association published a peer reviewed study with some not-surprising results:
“Gun ownership was a significant predictor of firearm homicide rates (incidence rate ratio = 1.009; 95% confidence interval = 1.004, 1.014). This model indicated that for each percentage point increase in gun ownership, the firearm homicide rate increased by 0.9%.
We observed a robust correlation between higher levels of gun ownership and higher firearm homicide rates. Although we could not determine causation, we found that states with higher rates of gun ownership had disproportionately large numbers of deaths from firearm-related homicides.”
When a scientific piece of research says things like “robust correlation” we should be taking the findings seriously. Seriously enough, that we ought to be taking the antics of the radical gun-enthusiast crowd who’d like to recall State Senator Justin Jones [NYT] because of his efforts in SB 221.
Nevada doesn’t need any replication of Virginia Tech, nor is a repeat performance of the Aurora movie theater disaster desirable, no one wants to see another Sandy Hook Slaughter. We can’t depend on the compassion and eloquence of a school clerk, or upon the determination of a concerned mother for the safety of her son and her community, to resolve our problem. Especially in light of the fact that we might have taken action to make their lives much easier, less frightening, by enacting common sense limits on the acquisition and possession of firearms.
We certainly don’t need our own version of the horrendous workplace shooting in the Naval Yard. We could have seen SB 221 enacted. But Governor Sandoval was more concerned with his rating from the NRA than with the safety of all Nevadans? We might have seen universal background checks enacted at the federal level, but then Senator Dean Heller (R-NV) and his GOP cohorts successfully blocked the bill. [HuffPo]
We might have applied some common sense to the issue of gun and weapon purchases — universal background checks, limits on ammunition capacity, limits on the types of rapid fire guns for sale to the general public, putting the skids to the gun traffickers — but so far we haven’t. And, we may not until we can summon up the quiet courage of the Atlanta school clerk who discouraged violence armed only with heartfelt empathy, and the unconditional love of a mother who didn’t want her son to hurt himself or anyone else.
We’ll be a better nation when we learn to emulate Antoinette Tuff and Jill Schaller, rather than glorifying the verbal excesses of Wayne LaPierre or the blustering proponents of the Yosemite Sam School of Inter-Personal Relations.
Now have we Had Enough?