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Mark Caserta: Guns aren't the problem; people are

Apr. 18, 2013 @ 12:00 AM

Struggling to maintain her composure, Francine Wheeler, mother of a child murdered in the tragic school shooting in Newtown, Conn., delivered her emotional plea last week for the Senate to pass gun control legislation.

"To us, it feels as if it happened just yesterday," Ms. Wheeler said during the White House's weekly address. "And in the four months since we lost our loved ones, thousands of other Americans have died at the end of a gun."

"Please help us do something before our tragedy becomes your tragedy."

Her remarks aptly set the stage for the upcoming weeks of Congressional debate on President Obama's proposed gun control measures. And indeed, the time has come to differentiate the arguments of those who sincerely care about preventing the type of senseless massacre we witnessed in Newtown from those who simply have an agenda to restrict the rights of gun owners.

In the emotional fray, many have become fixated on banning certain guns or other measures to disarm law-abiding citizens. The fact is we need a system which effectively disqualifies certain individuals from being able to purchase a firearm and combines efforts to keep them out of their hands.

Sensible gun advocates agree we must have an effective background check system. Recent events now show this system must be broadened to immediately capture mental health issues which preclude an individual from owning a gun.

The recent shootings involving Jared Loughner, James Holmes and Adam Lanza offer an employable pattern. Each was committed with legally purchased weapons which made their way into the hands of mentally-impaired individuals.

In the case of Jared Loughner, the man who shot Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords in Tucson, Ariz., Loughner was able to legally purchase a Glock 19 semi-automatic handgun despite having been suspended from Pima Community College because of mental health issues. But having never been declared mentally unfit by a court, Loughner's name didn't appear in the federal background check database used by gun sellers.

In the case of James Holmes, the man accused of murdering 12 people in a Colorado movie theater, the guns used in the crime were purchased legally despite the fact the alleged shooter reportedly met with at least three mental health professionals at the University of Colorado prior to the massacre. While the content and depth of the meetings are not yet clear, it adds to the picture.

The Sandy Hook Elementary case involves a man described as mentally ill who reportedly lived in the windowless basement of his mother's home. The guns Adam Lanza used in the gruesome attack were legally purchased by his mother despite being aware of her son's mental health condition and deeply bizarre mindset.

Background checks must be required for all gun purchases -- period. And these checks must include pertinent mental health information.

The current system has gaps. And unfortunately, when information falls through these gaps -- people die.

The gun control debate must not be muddied by ineffective solutions which keep law-abiding citizens from owning guns.

Guns aren't the issue.

The people who fire them are.

Mark Caserta is a Cabell County resident and a regular contributor to The Herald-Dispatch editorial page.



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