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Scott Mooneyham: A ludicrous gun argument carries the day

By Scott Mooneyham
RALEIGH ó It was among the more ludicrous arguments made on the Senate floor in a while.
Sen. Doug Berger, a Franklin County Democrat, was speaking in favor of an amendment by the Senate’s other Berger, minority leader Phil, that would water down a bill designed to keep guns out of the hands of the mentally ill.
Doug Berger’s argument: What about someone who had just lost a spouse, who was now depressed, so depressed in fact that they wouldn’t eat? Their depression and refusal to eat causes such alarm that a relative seeks to have the person involuntarily committed. A judge decides to commit the person to treatment, but on an outpatient basis.
Shouldn’t that person be allowed a gun to protect himself or herself, Berger asked.
Sure, that’s the type of depressed, despondent person that society needs to be encouraging to carry a gun.
The legislation, which eventually passed the Senate in its watered-down form, would require that anyone involuntarily committed to an in-patient facility for mental illness be reported to a national database used by sheriffs to deny gun permits.
The amendment will probably result in many of those committed on an outpatient basis from not being listed in the database. It would be required only if the person is deemed to be “a danger to self or others.”
In theory, such people aren’t committed on an outpatient basis. Magistrates and judges should commit them to in-patient facilities. Of course, we know that overcrowding is never a problem in North Carolina’s psychiatric hospitals.
And in theory, Seung-Hui Cho shouldn’t have been committed on an outpatient basis.
He was. His name was never entered into the national database. He bought two handguns. He killed 32 people at Virginia Tech.
North Carolina and Virginia law are and were different regarding involuntary commitments. Still, is it such a high standard that people who are involuntary committed, under any circumstances, should be prohibited from purchasing handguns?
Politicians, though, in this state and others, have always been cowed by the gun lobby. That gun lobby, led by the National Rifle Association, feeds off of tragedies like the Virginia Tech shooting.
The merry-go-round is now predictable: a tragic shooting by a madman at a school or mall claims innocent lives; news stories reveal how easily the person obtained a gun, despite the signs of mental illness or other potentially disqualifying factors; liberal politicians call for reform; the NRA whips up its members into a lather, implying the guvmit will be knocking down their doors and seizing their guns at any moment; the checks flow into NRA headquarters; the politicians back down from restrictions that most Americans consider reasonable and wouldn’t touch law-abiding, competent gun owners.
NRA president Wayne LaPierre goes to bed in his million dollar home; NRA members go to bed $25 poorer.
And in legislatures around the country, including North Carolina’s, legislators look for their spines and listen to ludicrous arguments.
– – –
Scott Mooneyham is a columnist for Capitol Press Association.

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