‘Shots Fired’: America Needs To Face The Truth About Guns And Mental Illness

Twenty20 / optimiss_prime
Twenty20 / optimiss_prime

Tucked away in Manhattan’s Lenox Hill between Jimmy Choo and Etro is a store called Beretta. Beretta identifies itself as a lifestyle company, and walking into the store one may agree that – minus the taxidermy – it fits in well on this block of luxury brands.

The first floor has the quintessential smell of leather goods, crisply folded button downs stacked neatly on their shelves, and binoculars; a hint at what makes Beretta different from other high-end counterparts: Beretta is a firearms manufacturing company.

This is most likely not where people come to buy guns for self-defense

Beretta is also a top military firearms manufacturer for the U.S. military. According to Beretta’s website, a few examples of their contracts include an order for 18,744 pistols for the U.S. Air Force in May 2012 and another order for 100,000 of their 92 FS pistols for the U.S. Army in September 2012.

Because of the strict New York City laws regulating firearms, this particular store only carries shotguns and rifles for the purposes of hunting and sport, and they do not sell ammo. On the third floor, there are 300 different types of rifles and shotguns, like a 28-incher costing upwards of $3,395.

The only customer on the third floor spoke to the salesman about firing at a clay target. This is most likely not where people come to buy guns for self-defense, but the process of obtaining a gun is the same here as any gun shop in Manhattan.

beetlejuice

If I were to have a New York State carrying permit (which may take a day to six months pending wait times similar to the DMV), an extra four grand in my pocket, and wanted that 28-incher, I would grab my gun and fill out the two page 4473 ATF disposition form, an employee would phone the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System (some stores use the NICS’s e-check system online), the employee would relay the information on the form as asked, and then would be given one of the following verdicts for me: approved, denied, or delayed.

The reason for these verdicts will not be revealed to the employee or the customer, and if approved, the customer may walk out of the store with their new gun. Also, it should be noted that if the FBI is unable to complete the background check within three business days, the dealer may complete the transfer by default.

The entire process takes three to five minutes, and 98.8% of people will walk out with a firearm.

In the most recent U.S. Department of Justice statistics for Background Checks for Firearm Transfers, approximately 15.7 million applicants were subject to background checks, and 192,000 (1.2%) were denied. The entire process takes three to five minutes, and 98.8% of people will walk out with a firearm.

The process described above only illustrates one way of purchasing a firearm. There is also the possibility of acquiring a gun through a private sale, which is not regulated federally – only licensed firearm dealers, like Beretta, who was in compliance, are subject to annual federal inspections (it should also be noted that some firearm dealers are not in compliance with this regulation and are not inspected annually as required by law).

beetlejuice

In a country where certain incidents of gun violence are known simply by citing where the homicide(s) occurred, such as Columbine, Virginia Tech, Tucson, Newtown, Aurora, Roanoke, etc., one would think there would be a more rigid process in screening artillery, especially guns purchased by mentally unstable people. Why are the regulations in acquiring guns so lenient that those who are mentally unstable are able to acquire them so easily?

This information would maybe allow for a smidgen of relief if, say, only those committing mass killings acquired their weapons through private arms dealers or even illegally, but they’re not: every single incident listed above in regards to gun violence involved guns that were purchased legally. (In the Columbine incident, the gunman’s girlfriend purchased the gun, so he was technically illegally using it since it was issued to her. Asimilar familial scenario occurred in the Newtown case, but all of the guns were still picked out at a store and bought at a federally licensed dealer.)

How thoroughly is the person on the other end of the phone really checking in a less than five-minute electronic exchange?

It may not be as simple as putting more thorough regulations on legal weapons so that mentally stable people may buy them for protection or recreational use and mentally unstable people will be turned away, but it’s certainly somewhere to start considering that there is only one question regarding the state of the buyer’s mental health.

On the simple two page 4473 ATF disposition form, it asks: “Have you ever been adjudicated mentally defective OR have you ever been committed to a mental institution?” Next to it awaits two boxes, “Yes” or “No.” If you’re a (medically and/or) legally insane person who wants a gun, which box are you going to check? How thoroughly is the person on the other end of the phone really checking in a less than five-minute electronic exchange?

beetlejuice

Gun laws can also be confounding since they are regulated on three different levels: local, state, and federally. When I called my local precinct and asked for some clarification regarding the gun laws, the officer told me to “Google gun laws of NYC.” Through my Google search, I found that we technically do have the constitutional right to bear arms, but if you live in New York City, those laws supersede state and federal.

If you live in Dallas, Texas, your gun laws are going to be much different than a place like Santa Monica, California. Despite what the laws may be, or if you’re pro- or anti-guns. I think we can agree with Leah Gunn Barrett, the Executive Director of New Yorkers Against Gun Violence, when she says that we need laws that will protect our citizens from gun violence. Gunn Barrett, who lost her brother to gun violence in 1999, makes the point that we, as citizens of this nation, need gun control to keep guns out of the wrong hands – the wrong hands being children, young teens, criminals, those will mental illnesses, etc.

What about the people who have guns for their protection?

What about the people who have guns for their protection? According to the American Journal of Epidemiology, (in 2004) over three quarters (76.3%) of the homicide victims knew their assailant, meaning; in a majority of cases, firearms were not used for protection against strangers. According to the United States Center for Disease Control and Prevention, “guns took the lives of 31,076 Americans in homicides, suicides, and unintentional shootings (2010). This is equivalent of more than 85 deaths each day and more than three deaths each hour.

Flickr / lookcatalog
Flickr / lookcatalog

Approximately 73,505 Americans were treated in hospital emergency departments for non-fatal gunshot wounds in 2010.” Thirty-four percent of U.S. households in the West own guns, 35% of Midwesterners own guns, 27% of Northeasterners own guns, and 38% of Southerners own guns (Pew Research Center, 2014). “If guns made us safer, we’d be the safest country on the planet,” said Gunn Barrett.

Therefore, the privilege to have guns for recreational use or hunting is not covered under the Constitution.

The United States Constitution states (in our 2nd Amendment) that “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” Therefore, the privilege to have guns for recreational use or hunting is not covered under the Constitution. The Constitution only states that we do have a right to bear arms, but the pretense is that we hang onto them and only truly use guns as a necessity to the security of a free state. Gunn Barrett concurs, “We seem to have forgotten the well-regulated militia part of it.”

Gun violence painfully continues to make headlines. The victims include people who were watching a movie, going to school, or doing their jobs and had their lives cut short simply because someone else who was not mentally stable somehow legally gained access to a gun and exercised their power of artillery.

beetlejuice

Owning a gun is a great power. “With great power comes great responsibility.” Ironically, these words were written in Stan Lee’s Spiderman and said by Uncle Ben Reilly, who is ultimately [fictionally] shot and killed on the street by a burglar over a scuffle for his wallet. We do live in a country that allows us the great power of owning a weapon. We, as citizens, need to decide that it’s time to institute policies that equal the weight and responsibility a gun entails. We need to go back to the drawing board because what we’re doing right now, it’s not working.

Those who are mentally stable enough and want to own a gun for their protection and recreational use would undoubtedly not mind an hour or so background check to ensure their safety and the safety of others. There may be people in this country that could handle the weight of owning a gun; it’s the other people, those who cannot possibly fathom the delicateness of a human life because logic is overshadowed by mental illness – those are the people who shouldn’t have access to firearms if they want one.

We, the people, need to decide who is allowed to own that gun, to pick it up and give it power, to aim, shoot, and fire.

All gun incidents are premeditated. You did, unsurprisingly, buy the gun before the incident. The issue is gun violence, the action of using that gun in an instant, emotional reaction with an irreparable result. Guns are inanimate objects with no power.

We, the people, need to decide who is allowed to own that gun, to pick it up and give it power, to aim, shoot, and fire. We, the people, need to implement rules that ensure that gun control is met with great care and that a significant amount of thought goes into who is allowed to possess a firearm.

It’s really easy to say let’s get rid of all of the guns, but that’s unrealistic and implausible. What’s hard is what will have lasting effects on our country, what we have to deal with right now: Which is figuring out how to impart the responsibility of owning a gun to that owner in a process that should be more thorough than three to five minutes. Because depending on who picks up the gun, the end result could mean the termination of someone’s life. TC mark

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Image Credit: Twenty20 / optimiss_prime

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