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Excerpt: "Focusing on the mentally ill, most of whom are not violent, overlooks people who are at demonstrably increased risk of committing violent crimes but are not barred by federal law from buying and having guns."

Firearms murders in Britain are 30 times fewer per capita than in the US. (photo: file)
Firearms murders in Britain are 30 times fewer per capita than in the US. (photo: file)

Violent, Drunk and Holding a Gun

By The New York Times | Editorial

24 February 13


ultiple mass shootings by deranged young men have made keeping firearms out of the hands of mentally ill people a big part of the gun debate.

Given the enormity of those crimes, that is understandable. Federal law does, in fact, prohibit gun ownership by mentally ill people if a judge has found them to be dangerous or they have been involuntarily committed to a mental hospital. President Obama has also issued executive orders to ensure that federal background checks include complete information on people barred from owning guns for mental health reasons and to clarify that federal law allows health care providers to report patients’ credible threats of violence to the authorities.

But a focus on mass murder, while critical, does not get at the broader issue of gun violence, including the hundreds of single-victim murders, suicides, nonfatal shootings and other gun crimes that occur daily in the United States. And focusing on the mentally ill, most of whom are not violent, overlooks people who are at demonstrably increased risk of committing violent crimes but are not barred by federal law from buying and having guns.

These would include people who have been convicted of violent misdemeanors including assaults, and those who are alcohol abusers. Unless guns are also kept from these high-risk people, preventable gun violence will continue.

VIOLENT MISDEMEANORS Federal law prohibits felons from buying and possessing firearms; it also bars people convicted of a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence. But it permits gun purchase and ownership by people convicted of other violent misdemeanors, defined variously under state laws, including assault and battery, brandishing a weapon or making open, credible threats of violence. Many people convicted of violent misdemeanors were originally charged with felonies but then convicted of lesser charges because of plea bargains. And research shows that people who have been convicted of any misdemeanors and who then legally buy a handgun are more likely to commit crimes after that gun purchase than buyers with no prior convictions.

California provides a case study. It changed its law in 1991 to prohibit individuals convicted of violent misdemeanors from buying guns for 10 years after the conviction. Before that, a study showed that gun buyers with even a single prior misdemeanor conviction were nearly five times as likely as those with no criminal history to be arrested for gun-related or other violent crimes. After the law was enacted, a significant decrease in arrests was attributed to the denial of gun sales to people with misdemeanor records.

ALCOHOL ABUSE Federal law prohibits the purchase and possession of guns by anyone who is "an unlawful user of or addicted to any controlled substance." But the statute ignores alcohol abuse. That is also a mistake. The evidence linking alcohol abuse and gun-related violence is compelling. One study found that subjects who had ever been in trouble at work for drinking or were ever hospitalized for alcohol abuse were at increased risk of committing homicide and suicide.

Other studies also suggest that alcohol abuse is a factor in the association between gun ownership and the criminal justice system. The difficulty in policing alcohol abuse for purposes of gun control is that there is no precise definition of abuse. Pennsylvania, however, provides a useful example. It bars gun purchases by those who have been convicted of three or more drunken driving offenses within a five-year period. That criterion identifies drinkers with demonstrated tendencies toward recklessness and lawbreaking.

President Obama has instructed the Justice Department to review the federal prohibitions on gun ownership and to make legislative and executive recommendations "to ensure dangerous people aren’t slipping through the cracks." The answers are already out there. your social media marketing partner


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+12 # DaveM 2013-02-24 23:16
"Many people convicted of violent misdemeanors were originally charged with felonies but then convicted of lesser charges because of plea bargains." This is in large part due to people having public defenders who do nothing but arrange plea bargains rather than actually defending their clients. Prosecutors, knowing this, "stack" charges, usually including a felony or other excessive charge which is often unsupported by evidence or even probable cause.

Faced with the choice between pleading guilty to a misdemeanor they did not commit or going on trial for a felony with an incompetent, overworked, or uninterested attorney, many defendants "plead out" out of fear or merely to put the experience behind them.

This should not be allowed. Prosecutors should only be able to file charges where there is actual evidence of a crime having been committed. They should not be able to "stack" charges for a single offense and use it as intimidation. Guilt by default should not be part of American law. Public defenders should be held to a reasonable standard of competence.

The precedents set by the system now nearly universal in America, are far more dangerous than anyone with a gun.
+3 # Gregory Wonderwheel 2013-02-25 13:01
Good points but unfortunately there is no will by the public to do anything about it, especially under today's "hang'em high" style of justice. If everyone who was over charged by the prosecutors demanded a jury trial instead of plea bargaining then the whole "justice" system would grind to a halt. That would get the necessary attentin to the problem. But unfortunately organizing the accused into a group action when it seems their individual results would get worse is also not a very practical option.
+5 # RICHARDKANEpa 2013-02-25 07:45
David M your important point is almost totally understated. Trial by jury is a pipe dream. The US system of justice is the plea bargain.

On a related point in Japan the death sentence is for repeat murders under the theory that is the only way to deter someone who already committed one murder. In this country it is easy to run out of fear of more punishment. In addition there is a significant percentage of people who think death is an escape from living the rest of ones life in a cage, so it is actually an encouragement for some to commit additional crimes, such as murder instead of just very brutal rape attacks. Frequently someone is a rage cools down somewhat before the opponent is dead, but there is a capitol reward pending to encourage him to continue.

Hear in Philly politicians cry that the undocumented community is plagued by crime and that they can’t be a good Samaritan and report an incident without fear of deportation. No one talks about how illegal gun owners are plagued with attempts to steal their gun, and other things they may be reluctant to seek police help from. Or even seek psychiatric help for fear of loosing their gun which they think they need.
+1 # Yopeace 2013-02-25 09:39
NH Chiefs of Police have created a raffle to give away a gun a day for 31 days in May. The first day's prize is a semi automatic assault weapon. Please join the community in asking the Chiefs: "Give up the gun giveaway and accept the offer of a buyback of all of the raffle tickets."
+1 # charsjcca 2013-02-25 11:58
One difficulty is that many of my fellow citizens do not accept alcohol as a drug. Hence, they take it to not be as dangerous as so-called street drugs because it is readily available. Most of us began using alcohol at an early age, 2 years old by my behavior. It never occurred to me that anything was amiss until I was well into adulthood. By that time I had become a regular practitioner.
We need to change our view. Beginning in 1517 there has been a movement thought to give consideration to moderation. It has never succeeded.
+1 # Gregory Wonderwheel 2013-02-25 12:57
It is a great point about misdemeanors. Since misdemeanors can get a person deported I agree that the violent misdemeanors against a person should also prevent gun ownership. If the same types of offences get a person deported and prohibited from owning a gun, then all the right-wing gun nuts might see the deportation rules a little differently.
-1 # corals33 2013-02-26 01:09
Guns are as natural to Europeans as the pigment of their skins.They will disappear when global warming gives them a darker skin and consequently a less warlike approach to the planet and its non-white peoples. Then and only then will this topic become extinct.They are merely an extension of his fear of genetic annihilation which he is fast fostering upon himself heating up the planet with this mad rush for "progress"
Could have been avoided if only he had chosen to lie in the sun instead of trying to destroy the "sun people".Pity.

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