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Editor’s Notebook

GHayesPolicing Our Own

by Gila Hayes

A non-member called our office demanding names of Network Affiliated Attorneys after failing a background check when he wanted to buy a new gun. When we declined to expose our attorneys to him, the furious caller ranted that we fail to support the Second Amendment. While calls from angry, frustrated people are part of customer service, such incidents raise a larger and far more difficult question: Are responsible armed citizens best served by fighting for every individual’s gun rights?

Going armed for defense entails tremendous responsibility! Are some individuals by reason of mental or emotional instability unable to shoulder the obligations inherent in gun ownership? Of course. I believe we do great harm when, in our fervor to defend the Second Amendment, we promote that right to people who can’t be trusted to behave safely with guns.

People who cannot control anger or who are too careless to shoulder responsibilities that can mean life and death need our care and protection, not the hands-off response too often admitted in interviews with families and associates of mentally ill people who have committed atrocities. If those closest to troubled people like the shooter discussed in this journal’s lead article don’t intervene, who will? In these difficult circumstances, intervention means preventing access to guns, even though the individual’s problems are not so severe that a court has yet withdrawn his or her gun rights.

Are rights owed without reservation or are rights earned by adhering to standards of behavior? Under what circumstances do we, the sternest defenders of gun rights, deem the right to possess firearms forfeit?

Reacting to government’s excessive restrictions, we are easily incited to decry ANY denial of gun rights. We use words like “entitled” and even “God-given” and “inalienable,” and our most fervent evangelists urge that no one, especially not government, can legitimately deny another person the possession of guns.

If not government, then to whom should responsibility fall when an individual’s behavior becomes troubling? Family members? Close associates?

In a column entitled The Persistent Threat of Mentally Disturbed Lone Wolves, Scott Stewart writes about family and associates of murderers and would-be killers who took steps to stop the danger they believed their family member posed based on conversations and even on written notes they found. (see

“But even when a mentally disturbed individual self-identifies, it is extremely difficult to differentiate between harmless individuals and those who intend to conduct violent acts,” Stewart wrote. “This is further complicated by the fact that mental health is seldom static, and sometimes the mental state of individuals once assessed as harmless might deteriorate to the point where they could take action on their delusions or perhaps even become violent.” The article highlights the power of family intervention along with the inability of government to monitor the state of a disturbed individual. That puts those nearest to troubled individuals on the hook. Can more be done to push families and associates to intervene while there is still time?

Too often, after a shooting, family and close associates of the killer admit that they feared that the shooter’s hatred and obsessions made him irrational but failed to intercede. Would they have been more proactive in getting help and restricting their loved one’s access to guns if they knew they would be held accountable?