Sunday, December 22, 2013

Gun advocates' blind spot

An article headlined, "When the Right to Bear Arms Includes the Mentally Ill" by Michael Luo and Mike McIntire, mentions state-level gun-seizure laws that are stricter than corresponding federal laws. These laws all involve situations in which the suspect is alleged to be mentally unstable.

The stricter state laws do not please everyone.

Gun rights advocates worry that seizure laws will ensnare law-abiding citizens who pose no threat. In Connecticut, with its imminent-risk standard for seizure, the law sometimes “reaches pretty normal people,” said Rachel Baird, a lawyer who has sued police departments over gun confiscations.

“People make comments all the time when they’re angry or frustrated — ‘I’m going to come down there, and it won’t be pretty’ — but if you say that and you own a firearm, it immediately takes on a context that it otherwise wouldn’t,” said Ms. Baird, a former prosecutor.

Baird's implication is that the "context" surrounding the remark isn't justified. Her position is clearly that the gun owner is, first and foremost, an ordinary law-abiding citizen.

Well, guess what? Guns alter the equation. You may be a law-abiding citizen, but in such circumstances what the rest of us have to contend with is that you're a gun owner, and at the moment we don't know how law-abiding you are. "Innocent until proven guilty" doesn't mean we shouldn't take minimal precautions just in case you are guilty, or in this case, mentally unstable.

If you've got a gun, you don't keep it for decorative purposes: you could use it. Sorry if you don't like how that truth affects how law enforcement treats firearms owners when they make threatening remarks, but your right to own firearms doesn't trump my right to be safe.

It's not always easy to tell whether someone is just blowing off steam, or is involuntarily expressing serious mental illness. It's a reasonable public safety measure to deprive that person of guns while the authorities figure out whether he or she is of sound mind.

Innocent people are inconvenienced by the law all the time. It's unavoidable. Being a gun owner doesn't exempt you from inconvenience when the law is reasonably trying to safeguard all of us.

By the way — gun owners, are you still there? Because the rest of the article talks about how little can be done under federal and most state laws to keep guns out of the hands of the mentally ill. So Ms. Baird, relax. The law is still overwhelmingly on your side. Unfortunately.

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