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Question of the day

Thursday, Apr 26, 2007

First, the setup…

Beyond the obvious and wrenching tragedy for everyone involved, the Virginia Tech massacre became a Rorschach test of sorts as Americans tried to analyze how it happened and how it could have been prevented.

Many have asked how it was that no one in a position to act authoritatively heeded the numerous red flags that the gunman was a disturbed and menacing presence. Others have suggested that the shooting spree could have been cut short if even one of the students or professors had been armed. Still others have wondered how someone with the killer’s record of brushes with the mental health system was allowed to buy guns.

All of these questions and points of view are understandable to one degree or another. The last is being addressed — and appropriately so — by Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan. […]

Illinois law requires any individual buying a gun to possess a Firearm Owner’s Identification card. Prudently, state law denies a FOID card to anyone who has undergone inpatient mental health treatment. Federal law also bans the sale of guns to anyone deemed mentally ill. […[

Illinois law might not stop someone with a potentially homicidal tendency from legally buying a handgun. The FOID law prohibition is for those who have had inpatient treatment, not outpatient. […]

But Illinois law also says a FOID card may be denied to anyone with a mental condition who “poses a clear and present danger.” A gray area, to be sure.

Question: Do we need to do more to prevent the mentally ill from buying guns? Explain.

- Posted by Rich Miller        

  1. - anon - Thursday, Apr 26, 07 @ 9:31 am:

    Rich, I think your question is too broad. The question should read “should anybody be able to purchase anything other than a hunting rifle?” HAndguns and automatic weapons have no place in a civilized society. Im tired of hearing people bring up the second amendment in defense oif their desire to own an M-16 assault rifle. Its stupid.

    People like this clown should never be able to own a gun. Furthermore, cops should never be outgunned the way they were in LA during the bank robbery where the robbers had AK-47’s. Its sad that we still debate this issue while thousands of people die each day from gun violence.

  2. - DOWNSTATE - Thursday, Apr 26, 07 @ 9:37 am:

    YES close all loopholes.To the first posting today in Illinois we hunt with handguns.Let’s tighten the law om criminals and get more people involved in reporting crimes.This guy should have done time for stalking.

  3. - Dead Head - Thursday, Apr 26, 07 @ 9:42 am:

    I think that there needs to be some consideration of the fact that not allowing anyone who has sought mental health treatment may act as a deterrent to some who really need treatment. Also, I don’t agreee with your annon. poster. I hate to repeat the old saying, but it’s true: When guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have guns. Do you really want to give up your right to defend yourself along with your right of privacy?

  4. - Rich Miller - Thursday, Apr 26, 07 @ 9:45 am:

    Let’s stick to the question at hand, anon.

  5. - Skeeter - Thursday, Apr 26, 07 @ 9:50 am:

    Tighten the restrictions?

    Those restrictions sure scared off the Virginia Tech guy, didn’t they?

    “Punish those who use guns for improper purposes” is another favorite argument of the pro-gun people.

    Of course, it took the police a few hours to identify the VT shooter, since according to reports the damage he did to himself made him almost impossible to identify him. He nearly blew his own head clean off.

    The fear of the sanctions for improperly using his guns sure made a huge difference, didn’t it?

    Want handguns on the street? Get used to reading terrible stories. If you are going to allow the sale of handguns, this sort of thing will happen. There is no way to stop it.

  6. - Bill Baar - Thursday, Apr 26, 07 @ 9:55 am:

    I can’t recall one of these shooting rampages where the shooter hasn’t been sane enough to target places where everyone will be unarmed.

    I’ve never been much for guns, but Sowell made a point today,

    One of the many hard facts that get overlooked by those impressed by visions and rhetoric is that mass shootings almost invariably occur in gun-free zones like schools, workplaces, or houses of worship.

    When has a mass killer opened fire on a meeting of the National Rifle Association or fired on a group of hunters?

  7. - Skeeter - Thursday, Apr 26, 07 @ 10:00 am:


    Interesting you would mention hunters.

    You should read the papers more.

    You would read interesting stories about disputes involving the Hmong in Wisconsin and the arguments about hunting.

    Those guys all had powerful rifles.

  8. - anon - Thursday, Apr 26, 07 @ 10:07 am:

    and people in the city kill other people with handguns — every day. couldnt the hunting done with handguns be done with rifles? Isnt there room to compromise here? handguns seem unnecessary unless in the hands of law enforcement.

  9. - Papa Legba - Thursday, Apr 26, 07 @ 10:15 am:

    Sure, it would be great if we could keep guns out of the hands of less than stable individuals. But how? They may have had a hand gun in their possession for years before they have a melt down. You can’t predict the future.

    It may be easier to keep Emil’s hand out of the cookie jar than to keep a gun away from these people.

    I bet if you took a poll you would find there are more hand guns lying around peoples homes than old unused computers. Firearms are too prolific in this country.

  10. - Sam Gordon - Thursday, Apr 26, 07 @ 10:31 am:

    To Rich’s question, in a word, No. We have enough problem defining mental illness, and now the bleeding hearts want to list the VT murderer among the mentally ill.

    Crazy people have been around since time immemorial, and have had access to firearms for centuries, including fully automatic guns pre-1934. You don’t read about these kinds of massacres back then.

    The difference is that we now have “gun free zones” that invite mass murderers.

    I agree with Mill Baar above, who notes that these crazed killers are always rational enough to commit their deeds in gun free zones, and avoid NRA meetings. What a coincidence!

    The answer here is to allow law abiding people to protect themselves the same way police officers, Daley’s bodyguards, and other peace officers do–with other handguns.

  11. - Gorman's Aborted Fetus - Thursday, Apr 26, 07 @ 10:42 am:

    I favor loosening the gun laws in hopes someone will go off the deep end and take a vigilante approach to ending Chicago corruption.

  12. - Skeeter - Thursday, Apr 26, 07 @ 10:44 am:

    Actually, there are numerous incidents of people opening fire on others with guns.

    For instance: Iraq. The fact that the U.S. troops are armed has not prevented crazed killers from shooting at them.

    For instance: Any time a PO is shot. The fact that POs are armed does not prevent people from shooting at them.

    For instance: The shootings in northern Wisconsin where all the participants [hunters] had high powered rifles.

    For instance: The gang shootings on the west and south sides of Chicago. It is reasonable to believe that gang members will assume that opposing gang members are armed. Has that stopped them from shooting each other?

    The argument that the mere possession of guns will stop gun violence is insane enough that anybody making the argument should be barred from owning a gun.

  13. - Brian - Thursday, Apr 26, 07 @ 10:46 am:

    Is it a good idea to deny access to weapons to the mentally ill? Absolutely.

    Unfortunately, I am 100% certain that the anti’s will use this opportunity to further impinge on our 2nd Amendment rights. Look at the history of banning “cop killer bullets,” and every other gun-ban initiative, and you’ll see the technical truth of the matter dragged through a sewer of lies and hyperbole, all with the ultimate objective of disarming everyone.

    To make the situation even more murky, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 4th edition (DSM-IV) runs 943 pages. So how many of those mental disorders should disqualify someone from owning firearms? Or knives. Or baseball bats, cars, ropes, or every other tool potentially used as a weapon?

  14. - Way Northsider - Thursday, Apr 26, 07 @ 10:49 am:

    Yes! We don’t need the mentally ill to “hunt” with these guns. We don’t need anyone else to run around with these weapons of mass destruction either but that isn’t the question you asked.

  15. - Bill - Thursday, Apr 26, 07 @ 10:52 am:

    Yes, obviously!
    Point of infromation: Does “mentally ill” include all republicans?

  16. - Jechislo - Thursday, Apr 26, 07 @ 10:53 am:

    If someone, anyone - crazy or sane decides to kill someone else - whether one person or many people, you can do nothing to stop them. You can make it ‘more difficult’ to purchase a weapon, a right protected by the U.S. Constitution I might add. Today’s society may not like the 2nd amendment but it is the law of the land. I do however agree with Illinois crosschecking the Mental Health records with the FOID applications before issuing the card. But equating possessing a FOID card with not being able to get a gun is a fallacy.

    I talked recently to a friend who moved to Missouri last year. When he went to buy shells for his shotgun he showed them his Illinois FOID card. They laughed (literally) and said that his card is a joke. I happen to agree - the FOID card is a joke. Any Illinois citizen can drive across the Big Muddy and buy as many guns (rifles, shotguns, handguns) as he wants in Missouri, legally - then bring them back to Illinois. He will only be breaking Illinois law if he does not have a FOID card when he brings them across the State line in his trunk and tries to store them in his own home.

    Back to the question about the mentally ill. You can pass laws and restrictions until you run out of ink trying to keep guns out of these people’s hands but if they want a gun - legal or illegal, they will get a gun. I think it is prudent to make sure we don’t legally sell a gun to a mentally ill person. That way an Illinois business will not be contributing to a situation where a wacko uses a Illinois bought gun. But trying to use the FOID card to stop a wacko from buying or using a gun is not the answer.

  17. - Anon - Thursday, Apr 26, 07 @ 10:55 am:

    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.

    I don’t recall being in a militia…

  18. - Ken in Aurora - Thursday, Apr 26, 07 @ 10:57 am:

    anon - Thursday, Apr 26, 07 @ 9:31 am: “Automatic weapons” and M16s aren’t even remotely legal in Illinois for private ownership. And thousands die every day? If you’re going to take a position, at least learn the topic first - unless of course your position is simply “oooh – scary guns!”.

    I have an uncle with both schizophrenia and a fascination for guns – a deadly combination. He was able to get a FOID a number of years ago because he had never been committed – all of his hospitalizations were voluntary. Several of us in the family made his guns take a ride, and then another family member made sure his FOID was revoked. This all occurred in the days before the instant check phone call – now Illinois firearm purchasers need a valid FOID, a call is made to confirm the legality of the sale and a waiting period applies.

    I’m a serious shooter, but the fact he was able to get a FOID in the first place has always disturbed me. I’d much rather have a mandatory mental health reporting system in place with a strong appeal process to handle exceptions. This may not be a popular view with some of my more radical fellow shooters, but I think it would be a small inconvenience to try and keep guns out of the hands of people that aren’t allowed by law to possess in the first place. However, I have zero confidence that Illinois can fairly administer such a program.

  19. - Ken in Aurora - Thursday, Apr 26, 07 @ 11:01 am:

    Jechislo - Thursday, Apr 26, 07 @ 10:53 am: “Any Illinois citizen can drive across the Big Muddy and buy as many guns (rifles, shotguns, handguns) as he wants in Missouri, legally - then bring them back to Illinois.”

    Nope, not true when it comes to handguns - Federal law prohibits handguns sales outside of the purchaser’s home state. I think ammunition sales are allowed, and long guns from states that are contiguous. All else must be sent through a home state FFL.

  20. - Ken in Aurora - Thursday, Apr 26, 07 @ 11:16 am:

    - Anon - Thursday, Apr 26, 07 @ 10:55 am: “I don’t recall being in a militia…”

    Ignorance of the law is no defense. From the Illinois Constitution:

    SECTION 22. RIGHT TO ARMS: Subject only to the police power, the right of the individual citizen to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed. (Source: Illinois Constitution.)

    The State militia consists of all able-bodied persons residing in the State except those exempted by law. (Source: Illinois Constitution.)

  21. - the wonderboy - Thursday, Apr 26, 07 @ 11:28 am:

    First the answer….no, we should not deny a Constitutional right to the mentally ill. Allow me to raise a few issues.

    In reading through the comments, I was greeted with rhetorically brilliant titles such as “crazy people”, “wacko”, and “insane”. Using such terms to describe those with mental illness is ignorant and only furthers stigmas and false assumptions. Well done to those of you who find it so easy to label the mentally ill.

    The fact is that nearly 21 million Americans over age 18 suffer from a mood disorder (depression bipolar, etc.). It is safe to assume that everyone knows someone who is affected. Simply stated, mental illness is widespread and many people who suffer are fully functioning, rational citizens who simply face a health issue which is of the mind rather than the body. That does not make them crazy or a wacko. Such categorizations are irresponsible and shameful.

    Let’s not forget past instances where rights were denied to the mentally ill. I know it may be extreme, but the Holocaust didn’t only involve the Jews. Thousands of “mentally ill” persons were sterilized or killed. Even in the United States, we sterilized thousands of mental health patients in the early 1900’s. When rights of individuals begin to erode, it tends to be a slippery slope.

    Think before jumping to conclusions, please. Those suffering from mental illness are not by default crazy or insane. Many are the leaders and heros of our past, present, and future.

  22. - Carl Nyberg - Thursday, Apr 26, 07 @ 11:37 am:

    If we had a sure fire way of identifying people who were mentally ill, doesn’t it seem the top priority should be to treat the mental illness?

  23. - Ken in Aurora - Thursday, Apr 26, 07 @ 11:40 am:

    Well said by the wonderboy…

  24. - Skeeter - Thursday, Apr 26, 07 @ 11:59 am:

    Denying a hangun to a person who shows signs of being a danger to himself and/or others is the equivalent of exterminating six million Jews?

    I think we have a new test for gun ownership: If you think that Wonderboy and Ken made valid points, you should not own a gun.

  25. - Ken in Aurora - Thursday, Apr 26, 07 @ 12:05 pm:

    Skeeter, where does he say that? Either you completely missed his point or you’re trying harder than usual to be argumentative.

  26. - Gene Parmesan - Thursday, Apr 26, 07 @ 12:54 pm:

    Interesting to mention the Holocaust, as Hitler was a major proponent of gun control.

    Seems a few of the bloggers are fine with the govt/cops having all the guns. There are some of us who don’t really trust the govt with all that power. Nor do I trust the govt to protect me in the case of a home invasion (or protecting me in a gun-free zone for that matter). Given govts history of abuse (and the abuse we’ve seen by the police in Chicago) I don’t find it unreasonable that a citizen would want to have firearms to protect their rights defined in the Constitution.

  27. - HoosierDaddy - Thursday, Apr 26, 07 @ 1:43 pm:

    The problem is this: liberals are all for taking guns away from people at any opportunity. Conservatives are all for locking people up at any opportunity. Nobody, on either side of the aisle appears to want to address the root problem, which is that mental health care in this country is an afterthought at best.

    In answer to Rich’s question– -restricting access to guns for people with certain mental illnesses is probably a good idea, but it’s not any more a solution than arming professors.

  28. - Dieter - Thursday, Apr 26, 07 @ 1:51 pm:

    People who hold “Green Cards” should not be allowed to purchase or possess a gun. Period.

  29. - cermak_rd - Thursday, Apr 26, 07 @ 2:00 pm:

    It should depend on the mental illness and the reason the mental illness manifested itself. Some people fall into a deep depression after the death of a partner or loved one. Should they be denied the right to own a gun? Others hear voices and listen to commands that come from those voices. Should they be denied the right to a gun? It seems to me those are 2 separate questions.

    Some tragedies can’t be averted. If someone wants to kill others and themselves in the process, it’s hard to stop them.

    As to the asinine comment about the shooters always going to gun free zones. Well, duh! How many places do you go in a day where you’re allowed to pack? The vast majority of the places around here are non-packing zones.

  30. - Skeeter - Thursday, Apr 26, 07 @ 2:13 pm:

    Intelligent commment, Dieter.

    Every mass shooting before VT was by an American citizen, but Dieter is going to blame the immigrants.

    Nice solution.

  31. - Undercover - Thursday, Apr 26, 07 @ 2:19 pm:

    Rich, I think your information about this law is incorrect. Unless the law has changed in the very recent past, people who have received inpatient psychiatric care cannot buy guns for four years after their treatment, at which point their rights are reinstated. I have a friend who spent a month in a mental care facility after being discharged from the military. He tried to get an FOID card to buy a rifle to hunt and was denied and told four years. Four years later he got the card and bought the gun.

    Check your facts.

  32. - Reddbyrd - Thursday, Apr 26, 07 @ 2:27 pm:

    It seems like the clear verdict from this question is a big YESEROONI
    Reading all the rants from the 2A guys and gals suggest big mental health problems and serious background checks are needed.

    Rich thanks for setting the trap! I am sure you will be turnign over the list as soon as you close the comments

  33. - hisgirlfriday - Thursday, Apr 26, 07 @ 2:30 pm:

    Surprised no one has mentioned this yet, so I guess I will. Clearly the Virginia Tech tragedy is not the only instance where a mentally ill person got his hands on a handgun and killed people.

    Am I the only one who remembers the mentally ill Derek Potts walking into the state capital and shooting Bill Wozniak two years ago?

    If federal law bans the sale of guns to the mentally ill and Illinois denies FOID cards to the mentally ill then how was he able to get his gun? I am not being facetious here… I am genuinely asking someone with a better memory of the case than I how exactly he got the gun he used in the shooting.

    Now to those 2nd amendment hard core defenders of civil liberties who say we can’t restrict gun sales to the mentally ill because we don’t know for sure they will use it to kill anyone, do you have the same objections to the government preventing you from stockpiling on cold medicine because you may use it to make meth? Just wondering.

  34. - Undercover - Thursday, Apr 26, 07 @ 2:37 pm:

    I was almost correct. A person cannot get an FOID card with five years of being in an inpatient mental healthcare facility. The statute is here:

  35. - Rich Miller - Thursday, Apr 26, 07 @ 2:40 pm:

    “Dieter” I have my own reasons for not being too excited about my wife (who has a green card) buying a gun. But why would you want to stop her?

  36. - Undercover - Thursday, Apr 26, 07 @ 2:43 pm:

    Perhaps because he might feel more scared to say such ignorant things in public!

  37. - Rich Miller - Thursday, Apr 26, 07 @ 2:50 pm:

    Seriously, Dieter, I’d like an answer. Why would you stop my wife from getting a FOID card and buying a gun?

  38. - Rich Miller - Thursday, Apr 26, 07 @ 2:52 pm:

    Undercover, all I did was quote an editorial. They mentioned “outpatient” care as being a loophole.

  39. - Yellow Dog Democrat - Thursday, Apr 26, 07 @ 2:57 pm:

    Rich -

    On your question, my understanding is that the shooter in Virginia was under orders to have out-patient mental health treatment. If he had been ordered to have in-patient treatment, he would’ve been banned from buying a gun.

    Its a little-known fact that while women have higher suicide attempt rates, men have higher suicide success rates, because men are ore likely to use a gun, and 19 out of 20 suicide attempts with a gun are successful. Banning people ordered to have out-patient treatment from owning, possessing, or purchasing a gun seems like a prudent step not just to protect the public, but to protect people from themselves.

  40. - Ken in Aurora - Thursday, Apr 26, 07 @ 3:25 pm:

    Reddbyrd, I was actually thinking that some of the neurotic yammering by he antis made me happy that they don’t own guns! :0>

    Or do they? It seems most banners of things seem to think their bans should only apply to others…

  41. - BBpolNut - Thursday, Apr 26, 07 @ 3:33 pm:

    I see everyone is making the claim that if a group is armed then there will be a deterant. If the VT students/staff that had conceiled carry permits were armed, Cho may still have made the attack. The point that the anti’s are missing is that he likely would have been shot long before he reached 32 people. Gun free zones are a target for crazies. Of course he was mentally ill. A sane person wouldn’t have done that. The problem is people in gun free zones are helpless. Its a free shoot em up for a rampager because no one can stop him.

  42. - Gene Parmesan - Thursday, Apr 26, 07 @ 6:43 pm:

    “Firearms stand next in importance to the Constitution itself. They are the American people’s liberty, teeth and keystone under independence. The church, the plow, the prairie wagon and citizens’ firearms are indelibly related. From the hour the pilgrims landed to the present day, events, occurrences and tendencies prove that, to ensure peace, security and happiness, the rifle and pistol are equally indispensable. Every corner of this land knows firearms, and more than 99 and 99/100 percent of them by their silence indicate that they are in safe and sane hands. The very atmosphere of firearms anywhere and everywhere restrains evil influence. They deserve a place of honor with all that’s good. When firearms go, all goes. We need them every hour.”

    - George Washington’s address to the second session of the First U.S. Congress.

  43. - Shadoobie - Thursday, Apr 26, 07 @ 11:02 pm:

    This is a tough one. To prevent mentally ill from being able to buy guns would mean giving access to a mental health database (could include anyone who ever received an anti-depressant, to anyone who was hospitalized for mental problems, including short-term voluntary). But, I say yes - make it tougher.

  44. - A question... - Friday, Apr 27, 07 @ 12:36 am:

    Rich this is an interesting question. With mental illness affecting 20% of the US population at some point in their lives (US Surgeon General’s Report) you are asking whether we should deny a large portion of the population a constitutional right. That’s right 1 in 5 of those who have responded have or will get a mental illness (see if you can guess who they are).

    Federal law prohibits anyone who has been court ordered into treatment from having a firearm or anyone termed “mentally defective”. States are supposed to send this information into the FBI (there is Shadoobie’s database) and that database can be used for other purposes. However anyone who volunteers for treatment doesn’t go into the federal database. That seems to be a potential big hole.

    Having Lisa Madigan looking into this does not inspire confidence. The quotes that I have read attributable to her indicate that she does not know how the current Illinois system works.

    Illinois’ system is in many ways more tough than the federal system. Before we change it, maybe we should step back and look.

  45. - Bill Baar - Friday, Apr 27, 07 @ 7:38 am:

    I’m not sure if many remember this but there was a slightly disabled guy a few years ago who worked a night job in the city and took the Lake Stree El from Oak Park to his job late at night. He carried a handgun for protection and he used it one night on two OPRF jocks who I think were drunk and hassled him (partly because he was obviously disabled guy). He used it and I can’t remember if he killed or just wounded either of them. As someone who rode the L late at night, I understood why the guy wanted a gun. That’s the tough nut for me with guns. You want strict controls and fewer of them, yet it’s a tough city. You understand why people carry them.

  46. - the wonderboy - Friday, Apr 27, 07 @ 12:30 pm:

    To “A question”…”See if you can guess who they are”…Really, is that what we have come to in the debate? Guessing who has received or will in the future receive mental health treatment? Holy witch hunt, batman.

    I simply hope that none of you have to deal with mental health issues. Beyond that, I hope none of your children or spouses have to deal with the lack of understanding that you have displayed.

    By the way, I would recommend that everyone look into the Surgeon General’s Report on Mental Health found at Reading the report might help deal with the problem as stated in the report: “Mental health is often an afterthought and illnesses of the mind remain shrouded in fear and misunderstanding.”

  47. - Anon - Friday, Apr 27, 07 @ 12:50 pm:

    How is mentally ill going to be defined. Is someone who went thru a alcohol inpatient treatment program at a mental hospital and been sober for ten maybe twent years considered mentally ill?

Sorry, comments for this post are now closed.

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