About a month ago, my girlfriend, Julia, comes home and tells me she had to take one of her patients in to a local pawn shop to cancel layaway on a gun she had intended to use in a multiple murder-suicide. It's important that she talked about that plan and therapeutic for the patient to be the one who actually took the step of cancelling the attempted purchase. Atter listening a while to this and asking Julia some questions, several interesting things became clear to me:
-Julia didn't know the law regarding mental illness and gun posession very well. Nursing school and work training just didn't cover it.
-No one Julia's ever interacted with in the mental health profession has ever verbalized or demonstrated in her presence any knowlege of a proceedure for entering a patient's information into a gun control background check database.
-Documented violent psychiatric patients in the general population are often armed with guns and when those guns are taken from them they often replace them.
-On average, the psychiatric patients who are functional enough to lead active lives are deeply tapped into the criminal underworld and can readily procure anything the black market has to offer.
-The mentally ill are themselves extremely vulnerable to fraud, assault, sexual abuse and other violent and serious crimes.
-Social workers routinely shelter felons from exposure to law enforcement -- even when members of law enforcement are providing security in the very same building.
I wondered what we, two nurses, might do to help Julia's team better handle armed psychiatric patients with histories of violence. So we drafted a succinct e-mail and sent it to an FBI field office, requesting guidance on how to get the mentally ill onto the NICS database in hopes of reducing their access to the open market in weapons. To the best of my knowlege, Julia still has not received a reply to that e-mail. And in looking at the law and related issues, it is clear to me that there is no clear reply to be had. It is the mental health and criminal justice systems themselves that are failing to update the NICS. The BATFE and other federal agencies outside of those systems are simply thumping around in the dark on this issue.
But that is not good enough. We need and deserve action on this problem. Not another Trojan Horse gun ban bill, but effetive responses to the threats posed by arms in the hands of the mentally ill and criminals -- laws against which are already in place and potentially effective if we can only get a good faith effort out of those who have the responsibility to send the damn data along.