THE LAWS OF THE NATION ALREADY PROTECT AGAINST CRIMINALS WHO POSSESS WEAPONS
The criminal codes or statutes in most states (if not all), and the United States Code, clearly prohibit the possession of weapons by an increasing number of citizens, not only in the criminal arena, but also in civil cases. For example, it has been the law in all states that a person who has previously been convicted of certain criminal offenses, is prohibited from carrying, transporting or possessing a firearm (people placed on probation, in general, are often prohibited from possessing firearms as well). However, the number of people that are being added to this list has been extended to include misdemeanors and civil matters. Those convicted of a domestic assault, or losing parties in a civil domestic order case, are likewise prohibited from possessing weapons. In this latter regard, the standard of proof required to prevail in a domestic abuse order is far less than “beyond a reasonable doubt” in a criminal case. The penalties for violating these provisions are severe. In the case of the so-called “felon in possession” of a firearm, the penalty is almost always a 5-year-mandatory minimum sentence to prison. If the charge is attached to another offense, the sentences can run consecutively (the defendant serves the 5 years after serving time for the other offense charged). The civil and domestic cases can also result in prison (not local jail) sentences. The prohibition against weapons, in these cases, has been loosely and widely interpreted– BB guns have known to be included in the list of “weapons” prohibited.
IDENTIFYING THE MENTALLY UNSTABLE
For those concerned about weapons falling in the wrong hands, the criminal justice system more than adequately safeguards against this from occurring where these classes of people are concerned. While there will always be cases where certain people will willfully violate the laws, and disobey court orders, the majority will follow the law. What do we do about those people who do not fall under any such restrictions and yet use weapons for criminal purposes? The first question seems to be how we identify them before they commit a crime. That is the crux of the debate between those who advocate for greater gun ownership restrictions and those who favor strong second amendment rights. One area of great concern is mental health. Some believe that people do terrible things because they have a mental illness; they argue that gun control is not the answer, treatment of the mentally challenged is. As a threshold matter, we do not know of any state that permits the sale of a weapon to anyone who has been lawfully declared to be mentally incompetent. The issue is what about those who are suffering from a yet detected mental illness? We have said before that the emphasis must be on reaching out to young people who may be suffering from a variety of mental challenges including anxiety, depression, delusions and other associated illnesses. Family members, friends, and others must be vigilant and offer help and make referrals to professional health care personnel.
Because mental health issues are often difficult to detect before a tragedy may occur, mass screening efforts to detect potential mental issues would be meaningless and frightening– who knows what the government would do with such data. Mass murderers and terrorists have been operating around the world since the beginning of time. The weapons they choose to realize their ends have changed, but their mindsets have not differed– they are reacting, often to delusional thoughts of power and religious beliefs, and almost certainly suffering from a mental illness. The key is that we must focus on increasing the availability of mental health assistance to detect these illnesses early on.