THE PODIUM: The law must stand between guns and mental illness
Authors: Mary Blegen, Eileen McCarron - February 8, 2018 - Updated: February 7, 2018
In the wake of the tragic shooting in Douglas County on Dec. 31, we have learned that law enforcement officials had considered taking action to reduce the possibility of this sort of event some time before it happened, but there had been no actual criminal behavior on which to act. If Colorado had the appropriate laws, there is an approach that could have been taken — Extreme Risk Protection Orders. These statutes temporarily prohibit the purchase or possession of firearms by persons at increased risk of dangerous behavior. This tool uses civil law to enable law enforcement and families to intervene when individuals are behaving dangerously. Five states now have these laws in place — Connecticut, Indiana, California, Washington and, most recently, Oregon.
The Douglas County shooter was known to be in crisis and behaving in threatening ways. The security officers at the University of Wyoming had warned law enforcement in Colorado; the Veterans Administration had tried to treat him multiple times, and his family
knew he was having severe mental health issues. Yet, no one could remove his guns. According to news reports, his mother had even taken his guns to try and prevent a tragedy, but she returned them after he threatened to sue her.
This is not the first shooting situation in Colorado that was foreshadowed in this way. In the summer of 2016, Micky Russell killed his wife Cara at her workplace in Denver. People who knew him had observed behaviors indicating that he might be violent, concerns that had even been reported to the police in their home town of Buena Vista. In January of 2017, a 37-year-old former soldier shot and killed an RTD security guard. He had previously been reported to Homeland Security for behavior that alarmed his fellow churchgoers. And, of course, James Holmes was known to have severe mental health issues months before the mass shooting in the Aurora movie theatre.
The United States Supreme Court in 2008 ruled that citizens have the legal right to protect themselves with guns, but also stated that “like most rights, the right secured by the Second Amendment is not unlimited, and nothing should cast doubt on prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill.” Further, in response to challenges, courts in both Indiana and Connecticut ruled that the states could restrict access to firearms by dangerous persons without violating the Second Amendment.
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