Gun rights, gun control, gun violence

Co-owner of RC Firearms Roy Berg files paperwork of transferring a gun Jan. 17 at his shop in New Kensington.

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A pending case before the Supreme Court, United States v. Rahimi, addresses the broad question of Second Amendment interpretation and how closely the nation’s laws should be compared to the way firearms were regulated in 1791. For example, making it illegal for the mentally ill and felons to own guns are two longstanding prohibitions on firearms possession since the late 18th century that seem unlikely to change.

In 1998, I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder type I, a mental illness that generates wild mood swings, from sky-high mania to abject depression, and back. It took multiple treatment teams and cocktail upon cocktail of meds before I stabilized.Now, the bipolar condition is part of my personality. But I am no longer a prisoner of it.

Also in 1998, I got into a fight with someone and violently brandished a golf club. I was arrested for assault with a deadly weapon (a felony). Thankfully the judge commuted my sentence to simple assault (a misdemeanor). I did probation, expunged my record, made peace with my one-time adversary and have avoided violence since.

Many years later, I wondered about guns. Despite having been raised in Western Pennsylvania, which has a robust hunting culture, I knew little about them and never owned one. One time, at a firing range, I decided to rent some. I gravitated to the 9 mm Beretta: less recoil than a .45, more stopping power than a .22. Practicing good marksmanship at paper targets was fun.

But I became more scared and less curious about guns. What if I aimed at other people at the range? Homicidal tendencies irk the conservatives: “Guns don’t kill people. People kill people.” With the Beretta, I could have inflicted mortal harm, which infuriates the liberals: “Guns are the instruments of death.” And I had the opportunity to shoot up the place without law enforcement around, which upsets the moderates: “Too little, too late.” So how does one address gun rights, gun control and gun violence, respectively?

First of all, let us examine how most mass shooters get their guns — legally. You go to a dealership and fill out Form 4473 that asks about mental health adjudications and criminal background history. The completed form is sent to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, and the dealer runs the information through the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) by phone or online. But out of more than 25 million records, about 7 million more are missing because of gaps in reporting. All it takes is one person to fall through the cracks.

Perhaps as an improvement over the current system, a psychological test to screen for mental illness (e.g., sociopathy scale) and homicidal tendencies (e.g., Sheehan-Homicidality Tracking Scale) could be put in place. It would comprise less than, say, 50 multiple-choice questions, to be completed and scored with a pass/fail decision at the gun dealership, all in 10 minutes — no more time to run NICS, and much more accurate and consistent. An ATF agent stationed at the dealership would administer the test so that no colluding between gun dealer and gun applicant can happen. This arrangement is much better than waiting for a hard copy, potentially doctored Form 4473, that is not a proper psychological instrument anyhow.

Although in principle I am not for taking away anyone’s inalienable rights, I do not advocate repealing the limitations on the mentally ill and felons — each of which I was once — regarding the Second Amendment. But for those of us who are neither “crazy” nor “criminal,” the right to bear arms is enshrined properly by our Founding Fathers for self-defense, protection of the home and against a tyrannical government. As it should be.

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