"While the rest of the nation squabbles over how to address the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary, we Alabama citizens can unite behind a no-cost change to our laws that all of us should clamor for immediately," Mike Marshal of AL.com wrote in an editorial board opinion piece last Thursday. "Let's reform the way we report involuntary mental health commitment records to the FBI."
The problem, Marshal lamented, is "Our state law governing reporting to the NICS specifies that probate courts must only report cases including testimony from a sworn law enforcement officer. The officer must testify that the patient had a history of inappropriate use of firearms or posed a threat to use them inappropriately. Otherwise, the probate court is forbidden by Alabama law from reporting that case."
In fairness, Marshal does address a key concern expressed by gun rights activists who have seen what should be called "government's mental health loophole" abused.
"We should also create an appeals process for former patients who feel they were wrongly committed or believe they have sufficiently recovered and should be allowed to purchase firearms," he writes. "Such appeals should start at the probate level, with the ability for further remedy in Alabama's circuit courts."
So can we unite behind a proposal he seems so sure 'we' will all clamor for? After all, who wants violent crazies running around with guns?
Perhaps we might also ask who wants violent crazies running around, period. After all, the greatest mass murder in the nation's history was ostensibly enabled by mail room/office tools, the second greatest ostensibly committed with commonly available fuel oil and fertilizer, and the third perpetrated with about a buck's worth of gasoline (albeit at 1990 prices). And like it or not, these atrocities bolster my longstanding contention that anyone who can't be trusted with a gun can't be trusted without a custodian, due to the easy and ubiquitous availability of box cutters, farm supplies and matches.
Because that's true, and it is, you know, looking at quick fix kneejerk 'solutions' such as changing state and federal information loop protocols on recorded mental health incidents may not produce any appreciable public safety improvements, and may in fact, endanger not only rights, but people disabled by 'law' who have been denied full due process.
The potential for that has come to a head in recent days with the news about 'well-liked' Vermont math teacher Steven Davis, who, per the New York Daily News, "was briefly hospitalized this week for a mental health evaluation on the recommendation of Bennington police.
"Davis had been discharged from Southwestern Vermont Medical Center," the report informs us, adding he "voluntarily surrendered the Bushmaster AR-15, the same rifle used in the Newtown, Conn. massacre, as well as two high-capacity magazines [and] Police later seized about 500 rounds of ammunition during a search of Davis' home."
His crime? Neighbors saw him walking to his car with a rifle. His behavior was described as "bizarre." He "had recently had recently become disgruntled with his job, posting a series of videos to YouTube in which he criticized the school's administration and union." His wife has left him and filed a restraining order.
But his crime?
"I just felt something was wrong with him," Bennington Police Chief Paul Doucette said, reporting on his interactions with Davis, and describing some of his behaviors.
In fairness, it sounds like Chief Doucette has reason to be concerned, and the actions of the police up to this point appear to be focused on making sure the man is not a danger to himself and others. But now, Davis must be afforded due process before infringements on his liberties are extended indefinitely, and that includes all liberties, including his right to keep and bear arms.
To not focus on that before permanently separating him from it would also create a danger to himself and others, all of us, by expanding what colleague and gun rights organizer Russ Howard calls a "mass confiscation by way of blanket dragnet gun rights disability.
"It's a dangerous path that should be studied calmly by congress, not passed in hysterical reaction," Howard declared. "It wouldn't sound so bad if all we did was help make sure people who are actually a danger can't get guns. But the mental health disability path has gone far beyond that into mass confiscation from decent people who are not a threat. By 2008, HR 2640 had already turned over 100,000 returning war veterans into prohibited persons without true due process.
"Veterans who served in wartime were denied constitutional protections that are automatically accorded to the lowest common criminals -- due process, presumption of innocence, jury trial, right to competent representation. They weren't even given so much as 'adjudicated due process' with a burden of proof on the government," Howard recalled. "No one should be deprived of the right to self defense -- a penalty fit for a grave crime -- unless they're a threat NOW, not just because they're on a list or saw a counselor for PTSD.
"We actually need to go on the offensive, move to roll back some of this to promote human rights and public safety, restore gun and carry rights to decent people who can contribute to civilian mutual defense," he advocated. "And we need to fight any extension of this sort of thing.
"Of course we must be clear that we have no desire to give those who are a danger to society access to guns," Howard admitted. "Which, by the way, means that dangerous people shouldn't be loose in society with 300 million ubiquitous guns. However, we also need to openly oppose any extension of blanket prohibition-confiscation without due process.
Howard's evaluation was a direct response to concerns that some in the broader "gun rights community" are preparing to offer up a mental health expansion bill as a sop to forestall more draconian legislation that's on the table.
If such legislation is going to advance he cautions "we must establish general overriding principles, and ensure that anything meriting support must First Do No Harm.
"Oppose anything that harms the USA, the Constitution, or the gun rights movement, or sacrifices groups of decent gun owners 'for the greater good'," Howard warned. "Don't help expand unconstitutional systems to more innocent people. Oppose implicit scapegoating diversions.
"Oppose any expansion of the approach that disarmed an estimated 140,000 legally innocent veterans.
"Second, Do Some Good," he urged. "Anything we support should provide real benefit to the social problem ostensibly addressed, be it a Constitutional or pro-gun improvement over current status, and should improve the lot of at least some gun owners who have been sacrificed in the past.
"Include potential relief for decent harmless people who have been subject to unconstitutional prohibited person status," Howard proposed, saying possible legislation should guarantee, "before permanent prohibited person status is imposed, a right to a judicial hearing with burden on the government to prove the person is a true danger, and a right to appeal the adjudication with full constitutional due process, jury trial, presumption of innocence, competent representation, and reimbursement of costs as well.
"For citizens such as the veterans who are currently permanently prohibited due to [existing] dragnets, ensure a periodic right to judicial hearing with burden on the government to prove the person is a true danger now, and a right to appeal any adjudication with full constitutional due process," Howard advocated. "We need to fight for our agenda, not the deadly gun grabber agenda. If we call it what it is (backdoor mass gun confiscation) and fight the good fight, we might win."
"However, if we fight the good fight and still lose, and millions or tens of millions of decent Americans lose rights as was done to veterans, then the new mass of 'prohibited people' will be upset with gun grabbers and appeasers, not with us." Howard predicted. "Many will be motivated to become activists to get their rights back, or at least get some payback by ousting gun grabbers and sellouts of both parties. These potential agents of a long wave of gun rights activism will not be eager to join groups that either sold them down the river or winked and didn't try to stop it."
"We don't have to 'just say no', nor should we,” Howard advocated. “If our side wants to 'give them something" to do, unashamedly give them our agenda: Above all, move legislation to abolish the ‘gun free’ school zones and penalties that facilitate these tragedies, move it federally, state by state, even district by district, and at least provide for civilian carry by teachers and other existing school employees. That should be our main contribution, since it's the only direct, real, guaranteed, immediate solution.
“Take the offensive, and make them remember we will organize to hold them politically accountable not only for any gun control, whether backdoor or front door, and any scapegoating, but for failing to move our agenda,” he concluded.
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