Why the Mentally Ill Are Allowed to Own Guns

Federal, state laws won't budge on the issue

By Neal Colgrass,  Newser Staff

Posted Dec 22, 2013 4:44 PM CST

(Newser) – Mentally ill, and legally armed? America's latest gun-rights debate revealed a little-known loophole: that the mentally ill can often keep their guns, even after making violent threats, the New York Times reports. Most states abide by federal law, which requires guns to be confiscated only after someone has been involuntarily committed to a psychiatric facility or deemed unwell after a legal process—but few mental-health cases go that far. So when Indiana man Kenneth Anderson, a schizophrenic, was arrested in 2004 for being combative with paramedics, his nine guns were confiscated—and eventually returned. Later that year, he killed his mother, fatally shot a police officer, and wounded four other officers.

That's an extreme case, but the Times recounts other anecdotes and digs up supportive numbers—like nearly 40% of Connecticut's 180 gun seizures last year resulting from mental illness. Connecticut, New York, Maryland, and California are more restrictive on the issue, but these states are outliers. And gun-rights activists have joined hands with advocates for the mentally ill to block changes in state legislatures. One lawyer argues that the law punishes "pretty normal people" who just happen to say something "when angry or frustrated." That legal gray area forces local police departments to make their own decisions in tricky cases—like the Maine resident who was hospitalized for saying he would shoot people, then threatened a neighbor after being released. "We don’t want to violate anybody’s rights,” said a local police chief. "But if you’re in the apartment next door to this guy, what about your rights?" Click for the full story.

  (Shutterstock)
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