Saturday, June 20, 2015

Living With The Consequences

Gary Marbut, for whom gun slinging is apparently one of the cardinal virtues, is unhappy with my friend Ellie Hill.

Writing in the Missoulian, Marbut assails Ellie’s seemingly modest proposal that the state should comply with Federal law and report the names of certain severely mentally ill people to the national firearms background check registry. You might think, in the wake of Newtown and Virginia Tech and now, Charleston, that we would all agree that keeping deranged young men from buying guns is a good idea, but Marbut’s having none of it.  Reporting the names of the mentally ill will do nothing to make us safer, he claims, because mental health professionals are unable to predict whether particular individuals will be violent, and people undergoing mental health treatment  are no more violence prone than anyone else. Even worse, Marbut says, is that mentally ill people will not seek treatment if they know that doing so means they’ll lose their right to buy a gun.

Marbut doesn’t appear to have actually read Hill’s bill. The fact is that the bill requires reporting the names of only those mentally ill people who have been involuntarily committed, have been ruled incapacitated and appointed a guardian, or have been charged with a crime and found to be either unfit to stand trial or not guilty by reason of mental disease or defect. These individuals form a very small subset of all mentally ill people. They are not among the vast majority of mentally ill folks who can seek the treatment they need without any fear of being denied the opportunity to buy a gun.  And they are more likely than most of us to harm themselves, or others, if they have access to guns.  True, that can’t be predicted with certainty, but the heightened probability of violence cannot be disputed.

The background check system can only slow, but not stop, gun crime. That’s true for lots of reasons, but the big one is that anybody who can’t pass a background check can still buy one of the thousands of guns that are sold privately or at the gun shows that flourish across the country. And it turns out that if a criminal wants to buy a gun, Montana is a good place to do it. Back in 2010, the Washington Post published an investigative report which listed the states that exported guns that ended up being used to commit crimes somewhere else; Montana came out near the top of that list. Think about it: that means that some of those guns that fly out the door at unregulated Montana gun shows end up being used to rob a convenience store, or in a drive-by shooting, or assaulting someone, or shooting a cop, or in a killing at a school or church.

The gun show and private sale loophole in the background check law is big enough to drive a bus through, and until it is closed, Marbut has nothing to worry about: people can get all the guns they want. But the rest of us will have to live with the consequences.