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How To Separate Unstable People From Their Guns – A Practical Plan

by Jean Ann Esselink on December 19, 2012

in Analysis,families,Jean Ann Esselink,News

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You know that old annoying saying, “Guns don’t kill people, people do?” I think I have the kernel of an idea for a practical way we can address those people who “might” kill people, without trampling on everyone’s Second Amendment rights. I’d love for all of you smart, thoughtful readers to kick it around and improve on it.

This plan is not in lieu of reinstating the assault weapons ban, and outlawing large capacity magazines and cop killer bullets. It also won’t work if we don’t end gun show ID check exemptions and do something about Internet gun sales, though I have no idea what. But guns are only half the problem. People are the other half. And so far I have heard not a single practical idea to get guns out of the hands of people when they become unstable. So please allow me to try one on.

As the situation exists today, there is very little a parent can do when they see their gun-owning adult child’s mental health deteriorating. I would like the courts to create a system for reviewing such cases. In a process which would be similar to a wife asking for an order of protection, a concerned family member would be able to demonstrate to a judge the need for a “firearms restraint order.” Issuing such an order would allow law enforcement to immediately search and remove any weapons from the (for sake of a more technical term, let’s refer to the family member as PS for Potential Shooter) PS’ sphere of existence. I’d like to extend the number of people able to ask for a “firearms restraint order” to employers, police, teachers, hospital staff, anyone regularly in the PS’ world. Obviously, not everyone could complain about everyone else, or we’d have 20 million people asking that soon-to-be former Congressman Allen West be separated from his arsenal post-haste. But anyone who has more than casual contact with a PS would be able to go to court, bringing other witnesses and affidavits to show intervention was warranted.

The biggest problem I see with this portion of the plan is the Constitution guarantees a citizen the right to face his accuser, and the identity of the person who requests a “firearms restraint order” for safety sake needs to be confidential. Maybe there is some wiggle room in that this is not a criminal procedure.

When a judge issues a “firearms restraint order” the PS’ name would be added to the “no buy” list. It would also authorize police to immediately seize all of PS’ guns. (Perhaps with a time limit of a year on how long they could be held?) It would be important to do this search at the same time the PS is notified of the complaint against him, so he doesn’t have time to hide any unlicensed weapons police would not know to search for. In order to have his guns returned before the year is up, the PS would have to go before the judge and demonstrate he was not a danger, which would include presenting the results of a mandatory psychiatric evaluation. This could be set up so that the Court had their own dedicated shrinks, or a PS could seek private counseling, which would be fully covered under Obamacare. If the PS’ does nothing, the complainant would be able to ask for a renewal of the “gun restraint order” before the guns are returned at the end of a year’s time. It would then be up to the judge to decide if the situation has changed.

I am probably thinking a lot of the same things you are. I hate the courts. They’re too slow and tend to corruption. They’ll make a business out of returning guns to their owners just like they did with the pee tests drug offenders are made to take. But unfortunately, if our goal is to legally remove guns from deranged people, there is no way to do it without due process, and that means the courts.

Where I think this plan will help most, is with those people who are driven by events in their life to become unstable, like a divorce, or being fired from a long-held job. Besides physically removing his guns, it has the added benefit of requiring a PS under that kind of treatable emotional stress to see a mental heath professional, who will be able to identify and help a lot of shaky people get control of themselves. There are many people in jail today because they “snapped.” This system could not only protect society, it just might save a lot of people from spiraling down to the point of no return.

We already have laws that say a person can be placed on an involuntary hold if they are deemed to be a threat. Placing the guns of potentially threatening people on involuntary hold until they can show they aren’t mentally ill doesn’t seem like such a crazy idea, does it? It has to be better than our current plan to separate unstable people from guns, which is none at all.

More On This Subject:
Mandatory Gun Insurance – A Practical Plan To Change America’s Cowboy Gun Culture

A Better Way To Stop A Bad Man With A Gun, Than A Good Man With A Gun

Obamacare For All Children Hurt By Guns: A Practical Change To America’s Cowboy Gun Culture

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tncrmJean Ann Esselink is a straight friend to the gay community. Proud and loud Liberal. Closet writer of political fiction. Black sheep agnostic Democrat from a conservative Catholic family. Living in Northern Oakland County Michigan with Puck the Wonder Beagle.

Follow me on Twitter as @Uncucumbered or friend me on Facebook.

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Eric S Riley December 19, 2012 at 5:06 pm

I think this is an interesting idea, however, this is basically duplicating the involuntary commitment process. If someone poses a threat to others or himself, there is already a legal process in every state to have the person committed for psychiatric evaluation. Any restraints on firearms over a period of time could just be incorporated into that same process.

What this fails to do, though, is prevent a situation like what happened with Adam Lanza. The guns were not his, they were his mothers, and in their house. To restrain someone from having access to firearms, means that you are also implicitly restraining anyone else who lives with that individual from having those arms. This creates a potential infringement upon other parties. That said, there is certainly something to be said about the state of an individual who would keep heavy weapons around a mentally unstable person.

GaelicWench December 20, 2012 at 8:59 am

Jean Ann is spot on with this idea. There would be some legal technicalities, such as doctor-patient confidentiality, unless, of course, there's a remote possibility that the patient would harm him/herself or others.

Eric, I agree about your comment in the last sentence of your post. What in heaven's name was that mother thinking by keeping an arsenal of weapons, thusly enabling her son, who she KNOWS was mentally ill. Yes, he was on medication (although the medicine prescribed had some pretty nasty side effects and had been recalled by the pharma co.), but could just as easily stopped taking them.

TOO much is being talked about the weapons and banning some of them. But very little is being mentioned about mental health. It's my feeling that the pols in D.C., especially the Repubs, don't want to discuss this as they are quite keen on cutting as many social programs as it is. To address the mental health issue would mean having more mental health in/outpatient clinics or *residences*, and that would cost both the states and counties, as well as the federal government a lot of money. There has to be certain safety nets that the government will subsidize in order for folks with mental disabilities can be seen and treated properly.

I have to tell you that I would not be against having pumps with the correct kind of medication put into a patient which dispenses the right amount of dosage. That way there would be no excuse about not taking one's meds. This would, of course, happen only after the doctor ensured there would be no side effects whatsoever that would trump the reason for why the individual needs to be on it. I know it sounds like the sort of thing the Nazis did to "undesirables" back during WWII. They were experiments, however. Our folks with mental health issues would be treated in the right kind of way; it's a right and anything less would be illegal.

But I am being a blabberbeak if I keep typing here, so…..I do like this idea put here by Jean Ann. Very much so. This can no longer be ignored. The majority of mass shootings were pretty much done by those with mental health issues. To keep turning our heads the other way is nothing more than giving carte blanche to others to keep killing.

peanut23343 December 20, 2012 at 1:46 pm

You wouldn't have a gun in the house AND accessible if you lived with a convicted felon, unless you wanted to go to jail. So why is this any different?

Jarhead1982 December 20, 2012 at 2:05 pm

They werent heavy weapons.

Heavy weapons are full machine guns, mortars, light artillery, anti tank and anti aircraft weapony.

Please know of which you speak.

teebonicus December 20, 2012 at 4:16 pm

Don't like liberty much, do ya.

larryarnold December 21, 2012 at 6:15 pm


PS is mentally unstable and prone to bouts of uncontrollable rage. So the cops show up at PS's house, barge in, handcuff him, show him a court order, seize all his firearms, humiliate him in front of his family and the neighborhood, and REALLY PISS HIM OFF.

Then they take off the handcuffs and leave PS in his home with other members of his family, access to his automobile, all the knives in his kitchen, his golf clubs and baseball bat, the propane tanks for his grill, the knowledge that his neighbor two doors down owns guns and can be overpowered, and the court order telling him not to be naughty.

What could go wrong?

That's why we have civil commitment. If someone is that dangerous they need to be in custody. Which is exactly what the Sandy Hook shooter's mother was trying to do, only the system moved too slow.

jchastn January 10, 2013 at 7:38 pm

Big problem with the idea of a employer intervening. Soon everyone who lost their job involuntarily (fired, layed off etc..) would lose their guns as a matter of course. Employers would have to file for a PS order for everyone fired to limit liability. If they didn't, and then there was a shooting by that person, they could be held liable. I think that the idea has merit, except for the employer angle.

jh245 February 9, 2013 at 11:12 am

Jean Ann, if liability insurance is required for guns (which I see you also support as I do) then the issuer of the policy, just as with health insurance coverage, should have access to the gun owner or possible purchaser's health records including any medication they are on or put on. This would keep the information confidential but the insurer could intervene to be sure guns were not provided or that guns be given up – or something on that order.

I think required liability insurance is the way to go and have started a petition to amend the 2nd amendment (is that possible? I am not a legal expert). Times have changed – Paxil, Prozac and Chantix (all known to contribute to suicidal behavior, with black box warnings, and possibly linked to homicidal behavior) were not dreamed of at the time of the 2nd amendment. We need to keep guns out of the hands of not only mentally ill people but anyone on medications with these risks, which now includes people trying to quit smoking!! Unfortunately I don't think background checks will ever accomplish that because of confidentiality issues, and I understand the need for that, so this is a different way to deal with the issue.

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