Jared Loughner was able to legally purchase the gun he allegedly used to kill and wound people in Arizona. As with every such incident, people are wondering how he was able to legally purchase a gun.
The obvious answer was that he was legally able to purchase a gun because apparently nothing had been legally done to ensure that he did not do so. While he had apparently been removed from the community college because of his behavior, his apparent instability was not reported to the relevant authorities. In any case, even if he had been diagnosed as being mentally ill, this would not have prevented him from legally buying a gun. By Arizona law a person has to be ruled mentally ill by a judge before he can be denied the right to purchase a gun on the grounds that he is mentally ill.
While Jared Loughner was apparently removed from school, he was never ruled mentally ill by a judge. As such, when the background check was conducted, nothing was amiss and he was able to legally purchase the gun.
Since it seems reasonable to keep guns away from people who are mentally ill, it seems reasonable that there needs to be a change in the laws or with they way they are currently enforced.
On one hand, the laws seem to be adequate. After all, people who are judged mentally ill cannot legally buy guns. It seems reasonable to require that a due process be followed before people can be ruled mentally ill and that this process should offer suitable protections to people to avoid abuses. After all, ruling someone mentally ill is not something that should be done lightly and we should be careful to sacrifice rights for the hope of greater security. Naturally, no laws are perfect and terrible things will happen. To use an analogy, people who legally get licenses sometimes get drunk and cause terrible accidents-even when people know that they are drinkers.
On the other hand, repeated incidents of mentally troubled people getting guns legally and then shooting people does show that there might be a serious problem that needs to be addressed. One factor worth considering is that there needs to be more communication between schools and the legal authorities in regards to troubled students.
Of course, this raises concerns about privacy and also the practical matter of how to fund the sort of bureaucracy that would be needed to handle these situations.
Another factor worth considering is that the system for background checks probably needs to be improved to ensure that the information is accurate and up to date. This is, of course, a practical problem that requires adequate funding as well as adequate competence. Folks who are skeptical about the state’s competence will no doubt be worried that people who should be excluded from buying guns will not be on the list and folks who should be allowed to buy guns will end up on the list by error (as happened a lot with the no fly list). However, this is a reason to be careful about the information and not a compelling reason not to use such information.
One matter of great concern is, of course, the fact that gun ownership is a constitutional right. As such, impinging on this right is a serious matter. Of course, people have argued that it is correct to impinge on other rights so as to ensure safety. As such, the sort of arguments used to justify violating or impinging on rights to counter terrorism could be re-tooled a bit to argue for restricting gun ownership. In my own case, I am inclined to be wary of sacrificing rights in the name of security-a position I consistently hold whether it is a matter of privacy rights, due process rights or gun rights.