The Norman Transcript

Columns

March 29, 2014

Protect the mentally ill

(Continued)

NORMAN —

The sad story of Weathers is an apt illustration that this compliance is necessary. The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence filed a wrongful death lawsuit filed in March against the Odessa, Mo., shop that sold her the pistol. The Brady case argues that the gun shop owners were negligent in selling Weathers the gun, in part because her mother begged them not to.

Janet Delana called the shop two days prior, giving them detailed information of her daughter’s mental health struggles, substance abuse and suicidal intent. She was a compelling figure at a press conference: a woman racked with the dual pain of grieving the death of her husband, Tex Delana, and the fate of her only daughter, who is now facing criminal charges.

It’s a tragedy that could have been prevented.

Odessa is a small community. The gun shop had allegedly already sold Weathers one gun, which her parents took away. Common sense agrees with the lawsuit’s argument that the gun shop should have reacted to the mother’s information.

That said, had there been a more complete federal database of people who are not fit to own a firearm, in this case due to severe mental illness, this tragedy might have been prevented (and it would be a stronger tool to hold licensed gun sellers accountable).

Policy experts with the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence point out that when people make a case for federal disability benefits, it is in their financial interest to be deemed mentally ill. That’s one reason benefits adjudications aren’t given weight to determine a person’s ability to buy a firearm.

The federal government must be careful not to overreach in its efforts to bar people from gun ownership due to severe mental illness. Most people with mental illness are not violent. But reluctance to assign further stigma to the mentally ill cannot stand in the way of better processes.

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