Originally Published: February 7, 2011 9:45 p.m.
The 1968 President's Commission of Criminal Justice study was titled "The Challenge of Crime in a Free Society." That challenge has never been conquered.
The horrific event in Tucson has renewed the gun rights debate, as most firearms owners anticipated. The core issues are: crime, prevention and mental health. The sidetracking debate is the device applied: the gun. Accept the Second Amendment and other foundational concepts within the Constitution are not going away for if they do, we become a new nation and everything changes.
The Daily Courier and the Arizona Republic published Arizona as the "Sixth highest in the nation for gun involved deaths," but the first five states were not identified by either newspaper. In Prescott we have a greater chance of death by vehicle than to be murdered, let alone by gun-related murder. Considering the known high homicide cities, as identified annually by the FBI Crime Reports, are their states the "five" not identified by the Courier and the Arizona Republic? Checking www.cbsnews.com, "Gun Deaths and Laws," and selecting a few violence-prone places (the border states and a few others) and the statistics become bizarre.
The following are 2002 gun death totals with the per capita/100,000 rates: Arizona: 887 (rate: 16.3); California: 3,410 (rate: 9.7); Washington, D.C.: 195 (rate: 34.3); New York: 994 (rate: 5.3); Nevada: 370 (rate: 17.1); Texas: 2,301 (rate: 10.6); Louisiana: 876 (rate: 8.6); New Mexico: 304 (rate: 16.4); Florida 1,886 (rate: 11.3). By "rate," California and New York are lower than Arizona, but in actual gun deaths, they are greater; and Washington, D.C., has the least deaths, but the highest rate. There is nao clarification whether the deaths were deliberate, accidental or suicide. Certainly California, New York and Washington, D.C., have the strictest gun control laws. Are they working as intended?
Researching wikipedia.org, and the essay "Gun Violence in the United States" the CDC reveals suicide as the leading cause of firearm death with 16,907 nationwide in 2004. The Arizona Republic article states Arizona had 1,115 gun suicides in 2006 and 2007. This suicide statistic reveals psychological intervention is not as successful as desired. Consider the fact community mental health care is unable to successfully prevent homicidal acts when suicide prevention also is elusive.
As a police officer and since, as an in-law, I have seen accusations fly on restraining orders and family court always placing one party in a poor position, attempting to gain an upper hand and prevent domestic violence. In these situations, the burden of proof is placed upon the accused; thus the potential for abuse or misrepresentation is always present. Consider police officers who have a divorce-action restraining order placed upon them; they cannot be armed in employment. If it is deemed a permanent restraining order, they lose their job, regardless if domestic violence was proven or not.
Is the motivation to destroy a person by innuendo, or is it a valid concern? This potential abuse could carry over into the implementation of a proactive community mental health system, one created to respond to concerns of less than stellar behavior. Concerns expressed by the community college staff, the campus police and the county sheriff who dealt with Jared Loughner went unheeded. Now those prior contacts could be offered as evidence for an insanity defense, benefiting the accused.
The challenge: identify what is working and what is not. Creating more preventive laws restricts the liberty and freedom of good, lawful citizens while the lawless ignore them (they are law breakers after all). It is known that Loughner sailed through state and federal gun laws as he prepared for murder. Additionally a Secret Service agent offered that the "lone gunman" is always their greatest challenge, for no one could inform them of an impending act. Further, most of us have experienced the response times of law enforcement agencies. Police respond, they will come; but they are never there to prevent. That is an impossible concept to achieve, and the courts have repeatedly held that citizen safety is not the responsibility of the police. For the law-abiding citizen, the right to possess firearms to defend their families should not be further limited. The perpetrators are always armed, and our government simply cannot protect us.
Finally, the potential for someone motivated for personal gain or retribution to falsely cast another as a psychopath or an assassin is huge. In considering such potential legislation, the challenge for us in a free society is to insure that the innocent are not destroyed, and another perpetrator does not slip thru society's safety net.