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Guns and Mentally Ill: Delicate Dance Between Right to Bear Arms, Public Safety

Connecticut's gun laws are the strictest in the nation when it comes to the mentally ill — but some say returning firearms to a person found "mentally defective" should be restricted from ownership or access to weapons.

The New York Times features case involving a Middletown man, the Second Amendment and the mentally ill
The New York Times features case involving a Middletown man, the Second Amendment and the mentally ill

This Sunday's New York Times, which tackled the issue of guns and the mentally ill, describes an incident in Middletown last year in which a 55-year-old city man who was a psychiatric patient at Middlesex Hospital referenced the Newtown shooting and threatened to kill a nurse.

In April 2012, Mark Russo of Middletown was off his medication for paranoid schizophrenia, according to the New York Times, threatened to shoot his mother if police seized the 18 rifles and shotguns he kept at her home. Officers did confiscate his firearms, the Times reports, and Russo returned to his home in a Middletown trailer park, where he anticipates getting his guns and knives returned to him this April.

"The Russo case highlights a central, unresolved issue in the debate over balancing public safety and the Second Amendment right to bear arms: just how powerless law enforcement can be when it comes to keeping firearms out of the hands of people who are mentally ill," the Times reports.

When it comes to possessing a handgun legally, Connecticut state law is one of the strictest in the nation. 

The following people cannot possess handguns or get the credentials, according to state statutes:

1. discharged from custody in the preceding 20 years after a finding of not guilty of a crime by reason of mental disease or defect;

2. confined by the probate court to a mental hospital in the 12 months before applying for a permit or certificate;

3. convicted of a serious juvenile offense;

4. subject to a firearm seizure order issued after notice and a hearing;

5. prohibited under federal law from possessing or shipping firearms because they were adjudicated as mental defectives or committed to a mental institution

6. under a protective or restraining order

7. convicted of any felony or specified misdemeanors, such as assaults, threatening or riot

What do you think about the rights of those with mild, severe or any sort of mental illness being able to own a gun? Tell us in the comments below.

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Ian Battles December 23, 2013 at 04:07 PM
We don't need more gun control in this country. 99.9% of gun owners are law abiding citizens. We need better mental health care in this country.
John Crist December 24, 2013 at 09:45 AM
@Ian Battles: "We need better mental health care in this country. " Ian, I'd like to know what you propose when you suggest better mental health care. I've been practicing for 25 years as a psychologist and have extensive inpatient and outpatient experience. Medication compliance is impossible to monitor without long-term hospitalization and extensive community mental health support, including enough clinics and qualified staff with the resources to follow patients closely. Paranoid schizophrenics are often extremely non-compliant with medication and so require a high level of compliance monitoring. That's expensive. I don't know your background, so the following may not apply to you, but it's especially rich when conservatives advocate for "better" mental health care as a solution to gun violence, since it's been conservatives who have been slashing budgets and resisting adequate funding for better treatment and monitoring of the mentally ill. We can't monitor these patients if the public refuses to fund the programs that can monitor these patients. Here are my proposals: A ban on gun ownership for those who have been committed for psychotic disorders in the previous ten years. A central database with teeth. States have had a terrible reporting track record, failing to submit info to the FBI database. The only actions I can think of to get state cooperation would be massive fines or federal criminal charges against officials responsible for the failures. Good luck with that. Next problem is that even with state cooperation, the FBI database of the mentally ill is useless because no database check is required for private gun transactions or transactions at gun shows. The NRA doesn't want gun sellers forced to conduct a check to see if they're selling guns to previously committed, paranoid schizophrenics with a history of violence or violent threats. In the end, databases don't mean anything if a paranoid schizophrenic can walk into a gun show and purchase a weapon without a check to see if he or she is legally barred from owning/possessing such a weapon.
Jack Christopher December 24, 2013 at 12:40 PM
MORE GUN CONTROL PROPAGANDA. Patch, why don't your advertisers realize there is a backlash to supporting your media lies with their advertising dollars? I guess we need to start MOMS DEMAND PATCH TELLS THE TRUTH.
BHirsh December 24, 2013 at 02:20 PM
"We know of no other enumerated constitutional right whose core protection has been subjected to a freestanding 'interest-balancing' approach. The very enumeration of the right takes out of the hands of government - even the Third Branch of Government - the power to decide on a case-by-case basis whether the right is really worth insisting upon." - DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA v. HELLER (No. 07-290) 478 F. 3d 370, affirmed. ". . . nor shall any person . . . be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law;" - U.S. Constitution, Amendment 5
David Santacroce December 28, 2013 at 10:21 AM
Coupling constitutional rights with "mental health" is a novel idea. Perhaps other freedoms could be similarly qualified, limited and contingent. Imagine if the state required you to list the contents of your home library. Be careful about the wrong dog coming home.

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