There are some people you could easily say should never have a gun. Jeffrey Dahmer? No gun. Ted Kaczynski? No gun. Ted Bundy, Dr. Earl Bradley, John Hinckley, Charles Manson? Nope, nope, nope, and nope.
Jared Lee Loughner? Oops…he shouldn't have had a gun. But he did. And there's the rub.
Needless to say, Mr. Loughner, recently sentenced to life in prison without parole for his January 2011 killing of six (wounding 13 others), was especially examined since his victims included United States Representative, Gabrielle Giffords. Investigations revealed that Mr. Loughner was "on the radar" of local police for his behavior, known to be deranged and potentially dangerous. From a statement released by Loughner's alma mater, Pima Community College:
Loughner was a PCC student from Summer 2005 through Fall 2010, when he was suspended for Code of Conduct violations. … From February to September 2010, Loughner had five contacts with PCC police for classroom and library disruptions at Northwest and West campuses...
...A follow-up letter was sent to him October 7, 2010 indicating that if he intends to return to the College, he must resolve his Code of Conduct violations and obtain a mental health clearance indicating, in the opinion of a mental health professional, his presence at the College does not present a danger to himself or others. (Emphasis mine)
So there were signs.
Same thing for one-time doctoral candidate, James Holmes, of Aurora, Colorado theater infamy. Holmes killed an even dozen and wounded 58 more, blowing a big, gaping whole in many people's lives that will never be repaired. His behavior was so strange that a local shooting range declined to have him as a member because they thought he was a bit "off."
There may have been other clues about James Holmes' impending crime based upon behavior just prior to his horrible act. But really, whose job is it to collect those suspicions together and predict what anyone may do?
It's no one's job. Either that, or it's everyones'.
But even then, what mechanism is used to deny an individual's Constitutionally-protected Rights? Though laws vary across the United States, most jurisdictions have some means of detaining people who are deemed to be a potential threat to themselves or others. It can be erratically and perhaps unfairly applied. Are you prepared to have your every behavior suspiciously reviewed for potential insanity? I'm not.
Comes now Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher. The truth is still fighting its way to the surface, but a picture of a disturbed man who abused alcohol and who had chaotic personal relationships is emerging. As we now all know, Jovan Belcher owned a gun. In fact, he owned at least two of them. Should he have been placed into protective custody?
How do you suppose that would have worked out? Who would make that call?
And it gets even more complicated. The American Psychiatric Association issues every year countless new billing codes defining diagnoses and treatable illnesses (ICD9 and ICD10 codes are used to specify diagnoses for billing purposes). Psychiatrists are authorized to recommend detention by authorities for at least a limited time, typically 72 hours. But that is very different than the long process of adjudicating someone mentally defective, after which they would be federally prohibited from purchasing a firearm.
Depriving individuals of their liberty is serious business. With nearly every aspect of human behavior potentially having some billing code applied, we can't just rely on psychiatrists to adjudge whether anyone should or should not be allowed to remain free, or possess a firearm. Though ceding to authorities certain legal gaurantees may sound sensible, what if the anti-depressants you're on (and millions of gun owners are) suddenly disqualifies you, trumps your enumerated Rights?
That gets pretty ugly pretty quickly. So what is the answer?
I think it's us, each of us. My experience of gun ownership is that, far from being anti-social, it strongly causes people to value life and the relationships they have. But then, I'm not nuts.
All of the criminals mentioned here capped a long list of failures with spectacular or at least notorious crimes. They were anti-social, and whether they used a gun in their career-ending crimes could be merely chance. They might have used a car. Or perhaps a subway train, as did this fellow, yesterday. When chatting amiably a few months back with an SFPD officer at a local carwash about the Aurora murders, I mentioned that James Holmes had carefully cut himself off from everyone he knew. To which the veteran officer sardonically replied, "Tell me something I don't know."
Which brings me back to us. Our goal as a company is to responsibly arm as many law-abiding citizens as possible and to bring them together in an online community that fosters exchange and learning -- and, as we put the bits and pieces together, collegial competition. We believe that doing so contributes to the Civil Society. So, while there are a lot of things you may do with your spare time and money, we believe that learning to protect yourself and your loved ones not only enables you to do so, but that it improves and protects society at large.
Update: I wrote this 10 days before Sandy Hook. If you want a quick understanding of AOT laws, go here.