To the Editor:
I believe most supporters of the Second Amendment agree with Attorney General Peter Nehrona that mentally disturbed individuals should not be able to buy or possess a firearm.
The recent tragic shooting at an assisted living facility in Westerly raises the same question: how was a man with a history of treatment for mental illness able to obtain a handgun?
Rhode Island is the only state that requires a seven-day waiting period before a buyer can pick up any firearm –handgun, rifle or shotgun. Meaning this buyer actually bought his revolver nine days before going on his shooting spree.
Nevertheless, no one is seriously suggesting that this “cooling off period” be changed. In theory it does allow the police where the gun seller is located time to check with the department where the buyer resides to see if there is any reason to deny the purchase.
The AG suggests “gun stores should submit the application to purchase a firearm to the police department where the buyer lives, instead of, or in addition to, where the gun store is located.” “Instead of” makes sense; “in addition to” merely places and additional burden on the transaction.
And what exactly does “submit the application” mean? Can the seller fax it or email or snail mail it to the police department or does he have to hand carry it to the local authority? If the latter is what the AG envisions, it is an unreasonable requirement. There is not enough profit in a firearm sale to justify a dealer in Woonsocket driving to, say, Westerly to deliver a background check request.
To prevent a police department from stonewalling a legal sale a background check should not take longer than seven days. (The BATFE in Providence says the waiting period does not include legal holidays.) If the dealer receives no feedback within that waiting period the sale should be allowed to be completed.
The AG’s spokesperson said police departments cannot access another department’s reports. The guests on a recent radio show included the current state police superintendent and three chiefs of police. They were singing the praises of a “fusion” computer system, which they claimed does allow law enforcement agencies to share information. So who is correct?
All gun buyers are also subject to a federal background check on the FBI database known as “NICS” before a firearm can be delivered.
The Westerly shooter reportedly was described seventeen years earlier as being “homicidal and suicidal”. Rhode Island, over the objection of advocates for the mentally ill, was one of the last states to provide the names of persons adjudicated as mentally incompetent or under legal guardianship to be reported to NICS. Courts are extremely reluctant to issue such orders. Accordingly, the number of people so deemed by the courts is minuscule.
The problem is whether a person seeking mental health counseling for, say, depression or anxiety should be stripped of an unalienable right guaranteed under both federal and state Constitutions. Should a veteran suffering from PTSD who goes to the VA hospital or counseling center seeking help be prohibited from purchasing or owning a firearm?
Those who believe in a riskless society will probably answer “yes”. Supporters of the Second Amendment will disagree.
Richard J. August