The front page of Sunday’s New York Times led with a nearly 5,000-word essay by two journalists amping up the volume in the latest attack on the Second Amendment entitled with "When the Right to Bear Arms Includes the Mentally Ill." The motive was clear from the beginning: There’s a mental illness “loophole” in the law that allows crazies to walk the streets and something must be done about it.
The article opens with the story of a psychiatric patient, Mark Russo, who threatened to shoot his mother if police tried to take the arsenal of weapons he had cached at her home. He was off his meds for paranoid schizophrenia, said the authors, and that caused him to go crazy. But now that he’s back on his meds, wrote the horrified investigators, he’ll be able to get his guns back shortly. They added:
The Russo case highlights a central, unresolved issue in the debate over balancing public safety with the Second Amendment right to bear arms: just how powerless law enforcement can be when it comes to keeping firearms out of the hands of people who are mentally ill.
The Gun Control Act of 1968 restricts “prohibited persons” from purchasing firearms, including those addicted to “controlled substances,” those involuntarily committed to a mental institution or who have been judged to be incompetent or dangerous, and those who have received a verdict of not guilty by reason of insanity. The “problem,” according to the authors, is that the states have differing and constantly changing definitions of mental illness, and many of them don’t report those who suffer from such illness to the national gun registration database, the NICS. This “loophole” puts the public in danger, according to the authors, who invested hundreds of hours poring over more than 1,000 court and police records “in which guns were seized in mental-health-related episodes.” What they found were cases where individuals deemed mentally ill were allowed to have their weapons returned to them even though they might possibly be dangerous.
There was the story of Ryan Piatt, a veteran of the war in Afghanistan, who suffered from depression, anxiety, and paranoia upon his return to the states. He had done simply awful things, according to the reporters, such as making “intimations of violence to his psychiatrist” — the authors fail to note exactly what they were — and trying to renounce his citizenship. Despite these extreme examples of mental instability, according to the writers, Piatt was able to have his guns returned to him.
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