Courts not keeping guns out of wrong hands


According to California Penal Code section 29805, any person who has a conviction for any misdemeanor listed within it, or for any felony, or is addicted to the use of any narcotic drug, or has been held involuntarily as a danger to self or others pursuant to the state's Welfare and Institutions Code section 8103 is prohibited from buying, owning, or possessing firearms or ammunition.

There are also prohibitions based on mental conditions, domestic restraining/protective orders, conditions of probation, and specific offenses committed as a juvenile.

Turns out the golden state is not following the exact letter of the law. Thousands of mentally ill California residents - who by that law are barred from buying or owning firearms - have not been reported to the state Department of Justice so they can be put into a database that keeps track of who's not allowed to have a gun, according to a state audit released last week.

Identifying those citizens who suffer from mental illnesses have been stymied by an insufficient effort from the Department of Justice and poor reporting from the state's Superior Courts - who issue the orders that ultimately determine mental competencies.

"This report concludes that the Department of Justice has not sufficiently reached out to Superior Courts or mental health facilities to remind them of firearm prohibition reporting requirements in state law," State Auditor Elaine Howle wrote to Gov. Jerry Brown.

Auditors investigated 34 state Superior Courts and concluded most of them were unaware of the reporting requirements and did not submit the prohibition reports to the Department of Justice's mental health unit from 2010 to 2012.

A separate survey of courts in Los Angeles, San Bernardino and Santa Clara counties found those courts were submitting incomplete reports that did not, for instance, identify people determined mentally incompetent to stand trial or those considered a danger to others.

Here's where this situation is elevated from a data-entry and department-reporting problem into one that threatens public safety. Firearms laws exist that are intended to recognize law-abiding citizens' constitutional right to own firearms, but keep firearms out of the hands of criminals and the mentally ill who are a danger to themselves or others.

If the authorities are not keeping their databases current and updated, there is a frightening possibility that legally-purchased firearms and ammunition could find its way into the wrong hands.

Mass murderer Jared Loughner shot 19 people at an Arizona shopping center in January 2011, gravely wounding congresswoman Gabby Giffords and killing six - including a federal judge and 9-year-old Christina Taylor Green.

During his trial and eventual sentencing to multiple life terms in prison, Loughner was revealed to have been diagnosed with a mental illness. What business did he have walking into a Sportsmen's Warehouse and legally buying the gun?

In December 2012, 20-year-old Adam Lanza killed 20 children and six staff members at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. Before committing the second-deadliest mass shooting by a single person in U.S. history, Lanza shot and killed his mother at their home. He later took his own life before authorities could arrest him.

Lanza was later revealed to have suffered from a "personality disorder" and described as "autistic." He, too, was characterized as being afflicted by a mental illness. His weapons and ammunition were also purchased legally.

Could Loughner or Lanza or anyone suffering from mental illness been stopped before they went on their horrific rampages? There are civil liberties, medical ethics and other factors that all play a part in any attempt in preventing these massacres. But if our state courts don't fulfill the requirements as prescribed by law to keep these individuals from getting their hands on guns and ammo, everyone's life is put at risk.

Since 1982, there have been at least 62 mass shootings across the country, with the killings unfolding in 30 states from Massachusetts to Hawaii. Of those tragedies, 25 of them have occurred since 2006 and seven of them took place in 2012 alone.

We have to keep firearms and ammunition out of the hands of people who can do us harm. Our governor needs to take a hard look and get the courts to comply with the law at once, before another mass-shooting tragedy becomes national news.


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