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August 18, 2012 11:16 PM UTC

Despite fatal gaps in gun policy silence reigns for some leaders

  • by: PolitiComm

(It’s always “too soon”–until it’s “too late” – promoted by Colorado Pols)

This week Mayors Against Illegal Guns released a new interactive map at its petition site Based on the 2011 report “Fatal Gaps,” the state map illustrates how much more can be done to prevent senseless tragedies and renders inexcusable the claim that nothing can prevent future mass shootings.

In spite of the shaming, name calling progenitors of silence, it’s more than reasonable to ask: Is our state doing everything it can to keep guns out of the hands of people with severe mental illness?

According to new data from the FBI, the answer for many states is clearly: “No.” While Colorado has submitted more than 30,000 mental health records, it has failed to submit more than 11,000 records to the NICS data base for background checks on gun purchases.

Every missing record is a tragedy waiting to happen.  

As Mayor Hancock recently pointed out in an interview with Sam Levin at Westword, if we’re serious about gun violence prevention we have to be comprehensive in our approach to arresting gun crime. Leaders like Mayor Hancock, Rep. DeGette and Rep. Perlmutter all have different approaches to limiting gun violence and each one of them is correct.

While Mayor Hancock is careful to avoid the perception that he’s leveraging the tragedy in Aurora, he’s focused on community outreach in order to better understand the causes and soften motives behind the use of illegal guns.  Rep. DeGette is championing security measures that would outlaw certain after-market, high capacity magazines and limit the ability of dangerous people to purchase ammunition online. Rep. Perlmutter supports legislation limiting the means for maximum destruction through renewal of common sense gun laws Republicans let sunset in 2004.  

Good leaders counsel common sense solutions and know how to listen. They also know how to organize others to take action. It’s time that other leaders learned by example and proposed their own plan to prevent gun violence.

Fixing gun checks through improved NICS reporting might be a great step in the right direction.

One thing should be clear to good leaders: Silence isn’t a strategy.  


4 thoughts on “Despite fatal gaps in gun policy silence reigns for some leaders

  1. I work as a 911 dispatcher, so I get to deal with all kinds of mental illness. The people I deal with are either unwilling and/or unable to manage their mental illnesses or their just temporarily overwhelmed.

    The issue I have is how do we differentiate the harmless crazy from dangerous crazy? How do we find out whether the guy with notebooks full of disturbing stories and drawings is the next great horror screenwriter or if he’s the next mass murderer?

    If we set up a system to keep the severely mentally ill from owning guns how would that be managed? If you got better, how would you get off the list?

    Even if you had a system to prevent those with severe mental illnesses from purchasing guns, there’s no way of preventing gun owners from going crazy.

    I wish I had good answers to these questions, but I don’t.  

    1. If we knew how to tell with 100% accuracy which mentally ill people–or which people with no previous history of mental illness–will kill others, we’d just put them in jail or under close supervision preemptively.

      Not that we should make no effort to keep guns out of the hands of people so disconnected from reality that they are potentially planning mass violence. But it does seem a little bit like another example of the societal obsession with eliminating uncertainty and danger from modern life. The TSA has prevented zero terrorist attacks. How many mass shootings would be prevented by increasing the number of mentally ill people barred from gun ownership? Compare that to how many patients’ privacy would be violated by putting records of their diagnoses into databases to prevent them from buying guns.

      I really don’t have a good answer, either. I lean toward limiting access to extremely destructive weapons. Nobody really needs an assault rifle for home defense. If you can’t hit a burglar at point blank range with a shotgun, you don’t need to be a gun owner.

      1. Scott P & ProgressiveCowgirl: I really appreciate the thoughts. I think they underscore the importance of talking about these issues. You raise legitimate privacy concerns that have been addressed in different states through different means.

        I believe when a ‘denial’ is issued on a gun check, minimal information is transferred to a gun retailer. Retailers only know they are prohibited from selling someone a firearm, they don’t necessarily know why.

        There is also an appeals process that allows someone who has received a ‘deny’ message to have their records amended or removed from the NICS database.

        I don’t have all the answers either. That shouldn’t be an excuse for doing nothing. Your comments, and this conversation, are an important first step in the direction of a plan to prevent gun violence.

        Thank you.  

    2. Under federal law people who have been committed to a mental institution are prohibited from purchasing a firearm.

      Every gun purchase from a federally licensed  firearms dealer is subject to a background check. At the time of an attempted purchase, the dealer will run a background check. Phone calls to NICS are resolved immediately while the dealer is on the phone more than 90 percent of the time. The investigator then tells the dealer to allow  the sale, deny the sale or wait three days while  NICS personnel make a final determination.

      States have made different decisions about  what constitutes having been “committed to a mental institution” under federal law. Different state laws define relevant records  differently. In Colorado, you must be committed by a court to qualify for a listing in the NICS database.

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