According to the Gun Violence Archive, there have been more than 60 mass shootings so far in 2023 — almost two a day.
As a formerly untreated mentally ill person who angrily erupted into violence earlier in my life, I know the importance of
keeping guns out of the wrong hands.
Sadly, 25 years ago, I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, subjecting me to wild swings of emotion. Around then, I was
arrested for assault with a deadly weapon, a felony, for brandishing a golf club at someone. Today, I am treated and stable
with my bipolar. My sentence was commuted to simple assault, a misdemeanor, which was expunged from my record years
My path in life fortunately did not follow that of Robert Bowers, who on Oct. 27, 2018, entered the Tree of Life synagogue
in Squirrel Hill, opened fire and killed 11 members of the congregation as they attended Shabbat morning services. But had
I seriously considered using a gun when I was inadequately treated, our society would have suffered grievously, and my
family would have been scarred for life.
But it wasn’t not thinking about guns that saved me, but rather a sliver of self-discernment that did, a personality
characteristic the untreated mentally ill and unreformed convicted felons lack. That is why I believe they have no individual
right to bear arms.
In my experiences, mass shootings are facilitated by the following:
1. Untreated mental illness
2. Easy access to guns
3. Absent law enforcement
Thus, a three-part, nationally enacted strategy can inhibit future mass shootings:
1. Mental health screenings for all prospective gun buyers
2. Criminal background checks for all prospective gun buyers
3. An ATF crackdown on gun dealers selling to those failing Nos. 1 and 2
Currently, No. 1 is not being done. Yet a Pew Research Center poll dated April 2021 revealed bipartisan support for
“preventing those with mental illnesses from purchasing guns” (85% of Republicans and 90% of Democrats).
Currently, No. 2 is being done only partially. The same poll revealed bipartisan support for “subjecting private gun sales and
gun show sales to background checks” (70% of Republicans and 92% of Democrats). But only federal firearms licensees —
FFLs or gun dealers — pursue such background checks.
For No. 3, according to news reports — such as The New York Times’ “What Do Most Mass Shooters Have in Common?”
— most mass shooters obtain their weapons legally, not from the streets, but from FFLs who look the other way when they
sell guns to the disturbed or the flagged on their NICS background checks. According to Jay Wachtel, former ATF special
agent from the Long Beach, Calif., office interviewed on the PBS show “Frontline,” that is where the guns are, and the
process is fast. Wachtel estimates that only 8% of the nation’s 124,000 retail gun dealers sell most of the handguns used in
crimes. That is fortunate, in a sense, because if the ATF successfully prosecutes this small cadre of rogue entrepreneurs, this
part of the strategy is largely resolved.
Most attempts at gun control have focused on taking certain guns away from people — like the AR-15s. I propose doing the
opposite — taking certain people away from guns. Instead of operating in piecemeal fashion, my proposal would bring these
three initiatives under a strategic framework that preserves the rights of law-abiding gun owners and keeps gun-dealers
I also support Gun Violence Restraining Orders (GVROs) that legally remove firearms from someone at the request of
family members and concerned citizens. Nineteen states have these provisions but are not being enforced. California leads
the way in establishing these so-called red flag laws.
Mental illness and criminal behavior no longer blight my life. The closest thing to a gun that I own now is a baseball bat,
and I only play baseball with it. I look forward to repaying my debt to society and restoring honor to my family.
Jason Park, a former Pittsburgh resident who holds a PhD from the University of Pittsburgh, is a mental health advocate and
author of “Bliss + Blues = Bipolar: My Memoir of My Ups and Downs Living with Bipolar Disorder.”