Mental Health and Gun Ownership

By Shiva Rodriguez (2016)

Over twenty years ago I was a bartender at a night club. In the area at the time there would be news about people driving drunk and killing themselves and others on almost a weekly basis, these incidents often happening right around the time the bars closed.

So the powers that be in the area (I can't recall if it was city, county, or perhaps even state) decided to put some responsibility on the people who served alcohol, correctly assuming that an intoxicated patron was unlikely to be able to judge for his/herself if they'd had too much to drink.

All of the bartenders and waitresses were required to attend a long class that focused a lot on determining whether or not someone has had too much to drink. It wasn't perfect, as some people get giddy on a single glass of Chablis while others can down a bottle of Wild Turkey 101 and still be able to do advanced algebra without slurring. But we were given guidelines and told to always error on the side of caution. If someone arrived to the establishment drunk, we could not give them service. However, we could (and did) take their car keys and call them a cab.

Now, we all knew that there were a lot of flaws in the law here. How would anyone know where the bloke was or who served him if he died in a drunk driving accident? What were the chances of anyone remembering their server's name if they were pulled over for DUI? And this certainly didn't apply to the people who drank at home before deciding to get behind the wheel.

However, it was enough to put some fear into the people in the bar industry. At the minimum, we'd lose our well-paid jobs. At worst, we'd be arrested, fined, and maybe even do some jail time if it wasn't our first slip-up. So we took every precaution to make sure no one made it to the parking lot if they'd had too much to drink.

My idea about requiring clearance from a mental health professional in order to get a gun permit is actually a lot tighter. Obviously there would be a paper trail that leads directly to the doorstep of the doctor who signed off on the gun-toting patient.

Having a law in place did not stop us from serving alcohol. I'm sure it wouldn't stop doctors from signing the required forms for their patients to obtain a gun... if they honestly believe that the patient is fit to own one (just as we had to determine if a customer was in the right condition to handle a drink.)

To require renewal of a permit every couple of years (or even yearly, for that matter) would also help catch developing or escalating conditions. Mental health is tricky, and it wouldn't be surprising if someone who was cleared for gun ownership one year may be flagged a few years later.

It's not perfect. Nothing ever is. And it doesn't stop people from buying guns illegally on the street. I have thoughts on that too.

Remember I said that even though the club workers knew that it would be difficult to determine who served the drunks, we still took a lot of care to make sure we complied with the law? We did so because none of us wanted to deal with the consequences. I have no idea if there really were undercover cops going into bars and observing, but rumours that that was happening were certainly flying around. It simply was not worth the risk to us.

Now apply that to folks who sell guns on the street.

It's easy to assume that criminals do illegal things because they don't care about the laws and don't think they'll ever be caught. With some types of crimes, that may be true. A lot of serial killers and serial rapists thought that they were smarter than the police. People who go on suicide missions obviously don't worry about the consequences of their actions. But the bloke who sells drugs, guns, and stolen goods is more likely to weigh those pros and cons when operating his business.

Seriously. If you make a career out of doing something, even if that something is illegal, you are likely to know the laws and weigh the risks. Many career robbers wouldn't dream of actually shooting their victims because 20-to-life (or even the death penalty) is not a good gamble for whatever tangible goods they'd get out of the crime.

In the world today, even the unprofessional thugs and home-breakers run as fast as they can when things start going wrong rather than shoot potential witnesses, especially in a world where cameras are everywhere and that picture can go viral on social media within mere minutes if someone wants to identify you.
With that in mind, would it be too far-fetched to think that someone dealing firearms on the street might reconsider his/her merchandise if the penalty for getting caught was a mandatory 20-to-life sans parole?

Of course there would be a few who would gladly take the risk. But I'm guessing that a lot of them wouldn't and that would mean that it would be harder for someone who can't meet the permit requirements to illegally obtain a gun. The risk involved would also make the price tag on a black market gun go up considerably.

It would not completely fix the problem, but it may well help lower the body count.

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