Wednesday, October 28, 2015

GUN CONTROL LEGISLATION NOT THE ANSWER


by Marshall Frank

This Op-Ed appears in Florida Today, this date.

We need gun control about as much as we need car control. Both are deadly instruments, but the current threshold for accountability is far different for one than the other.

When we buy or sell an automobile, it requires a title, registration, tag and insurance. When we buy or sell a firearm, none of this applies. I can sell my pistol at a yard sale where there is no way to trace ownership. Dealers, however, must conduct background checks, only because they are licensed retailers. Forty percent of hand guns are not purchased from licensed dealers.

Fact: None of the recent mass shootings would have been deterred by more gun control legislation. But they could have been abated with better laws dealing with mental illness.

Private gun sales are legal, requiring no background checks. Most guns used in violent crime are stolen in burglaries or they are bought on the black market, none of which pertains to licensed dealers or gun show loopholes. The emphasis on background checks is misleading, because they only disapprove buyers who have established a police record. Criminals often pay someone else with no record to purchase a gun on their behalf.

In several mass shootings, the killers bought no guns at all. They took them from households where they were legally owned.

Most mass killings of recent years were committed by first-time offenders who can pass background checks despite suffering from serious psychosis. There is no data bank for mentally ill people, unless they have been confined by the justice system to an institution. Crazy people like the shooter in an Aurora, Colorado, movie theater or at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut, were known to be mentally unstable by friends and family, but there was nothing they could do until a tragedy happened.

A U.S. Supreme Court decision in 1975 (O’Connor v. Donaldson) ruled that mental institutions could not hold sick people against their will. This eventually led to emptying 90 percent of patients from mental hospitals. Treatment was replaced with drugs like Thorazine, or with jail cells after they committed a crime. Prisons are now the default entity for treating violently ill people, which is no treatment at all.

President Obama and his supporters are predictably fast to blame the need for more gun control when mass shootings occur, as though it’s the end-all solution, which is untrue. Before the bodies are autopsied and investigations are still pending, the omniscient president passes judgment on the cause of these crimes. His focus is erroneous. Cars don’t kill people, drivers kill people. Guns and knives don’t kill, people do. We must do something about dangerous people who are prone toward irresponsibility or violence, regardless of what instrument they use.

As a former law enforcement officer, I agree that greater accountability (not “control”) is needed in the firearms industry. That’s so law enforcement can sink its teeth into criminal investigations. When the police nab street thugs in possession of firearms, there is no way to determine how or when they were bought, sold or stolen, or the owner’s identity. If titles and registrations were required for all gun sales, along with insurance, we would have an accountability factor for every gun recovered in criminal investigations, or those possessed by criminals. Meanwhile, people could still purchase and own, in accordance with the Second Amendment.

The crux of the problem is mental health, which is where the focus should be. But politicians avoid the obvious it because it’s intangible and more complicated. Our mental health systems and services are virtually defunct in a country with 310 million people. When friends, family members and teachers are astutely aware that a person is walking around out of touch from reality, we should have means by which to isolate, evaluate and treat to prevent disasters before they happen. We owe it to future victims.

Stressing gun control is a worn-out broken record. Let’s think outside the box.

Click here: Frank: Gun-control legislation is not the answer

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