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Thursday, August 6, 2015

The Mentally Ill and Guns: Gun Control Needs in the Buckeye State

And now, the latest movie theater incident. Vincente David Montano, 29, a man with a history of mental health issues, was shot dead on August 5, 2015, when he entered a Nashville-area movie and wielded an ax, shot a pellet gun, and used pepper spray.

"We have no motive," said police spokesman Don Aaron, adding that Montano has had "significant psychiatric" issues and that police are looking at his background.

His mother, Denise Pruitt, told authorities that Montano was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia in 2006. He had been committed to a mental institution four times, Don Aaron told reporters.

Vincente David Montano was committed twice in 2004 and twice in 2007, said Aaron, citing officials in Rutherford County. Montano had been arrested Murfreesboro, Tennessee, in 2004 in a case of assault and resisting arrest, police said.

Now, consider this July 2013 incident from Yellow Springs, Ohio and how it also raised concerns about the justice system’s capacity to keep dangerous weapons out of the hands of those who could be a danger to themselves or the community.

42-year-old Paul E. Schenck had a history of stockpiling guns and violent encounters with police.
The last incident involved 63 law enforcement officers from 12 different agencies in a standoff that lasted nearly six hours, and resulted in Schenck being killed in a prolonged shootout. The Ohio Attorney General’s Office Bureau of Criminal Investigation collected 191 shell casings from inside Schenck’s house. Investigators counted at least 107 bullet holes exiting the home. It was a miracle that he did not slay a single police officer.

(Sharahn D. Boykin and Katie Wedell. "Yellow Springs man killed during standoff with police." Dayton Daily News. July 31, 2013.)

Those who have been convicted of felony offenses under Ohio law are prohibited from owning firearms, but an examination by the Dayton Daily News found the law is vague when it comes to people with a history of mental illness.

Ohio law prohibits anyone who is, “drug dependent, in danger of drug dependence, or a chronic alcoholic,” from owning a gun as well as anyone who has been adjudicated as mentally incompetent or involuntarily committed for mental health treatment.

Paul E. Schenck, 42, didn’t fall under any of those restrictions despite a previous incident with police that prompted the temporary seizure of numerous firearms. When dispatchers sent police to his residence, 280 N. High St., on the morning of July 31, there was no background information available about Schenck’s 2009 arrest for pulling a gun on an officer.

Many question if more should be done to help protect police and innocent bystanders. Clark County Sheriff Gene Kelly said it can be frustrating. “We can hold them (guns) for safekeeping, we can hold them for a court order. But once a protection order is lifted, you have to give them back,” he said.

Boykin and Wedell of the Dayton Daily News reported ...

"Law enforcement officials have had repeated contact with Schenck, an Air Force veteran, including an incident in 2009 in which officers reportedly had to wrestle a gun from him. He was arrested and police obtained a search warrant for the residence. Inside the home investigators found more than 20 rifles, four to five handguns, tens of thousands of rounds of ammo and sophisticated body armor, according to police.

"Yellow Springs Police Chief Tony Pettiford said  that those guns were returned to Schenck about a year later after their investigation was complete.

"According to court record, Schenck had weapons, disorderly conduct, obstruction and resisting arrest charges between 1993 and 2009. The mother of one of his children filed a protective order against him in 2002 that was later dismissed.

"In the request for that court order, the woman wrote that Schenck, 'has emotional/mental imbalances and is often drunk from alcohol at his residence and possesses numerous guns/weapons.'”

(Sharahn D. Boykin and Katie Wedell. "Yellow Springs man killed during standoff with police." Dayton Daily News. July 31, 2013.)

Former Yellow Springs Police Chief John Grote said it was unknown whether Schenck ever had a mental health evaluation, but he noted that given the circumstances with Schenck, it would not be uncommon for the court to require one. In fact, Schenck had pulled a gun on police in the past.

Grote said more tax dollars need to be spent on mental health diagnosis and increased efforts to get rid of the stigma associated with mental illness.

But, Montgomery County Sheriff Phil Plummer stated that law enforcement has very little say in whether someone is permanently prohibited from having weapons and cannot do random checks on those under disability. Plummer said officers have limited resources or authority to check up on people who are legally barred from having guns. “We can’t go knocking down doors,” he said.

“You can have 100 people who say this guy shouldn’t have a gun because he’s crazy, but he hasn’t been convicted of a felony and he hasn’t been committed,” said Montgomery County Sheriff’s Sgt. M.D. Hutchison.

("Ohio gun laws vague in mental health cases." The Norwalk Reflector. TNS Regional News.
August 28, 2013.)

In June 2013, Ohio Governor John Kasich signed a bill requiring Ohio courts to report certain mental health information for inclusion in a law enforcement database. The bill is named after a Clark County sheriff's deputy who was fatally shot two years ago. The Deputy Suzanne Hopper Act
requires courts to tell police or county sheriffs' departments when they order mental health treatment for a person convicted of a violent offense. Courts must also report when they order conditional release of a person committed after being found incompetent to stand trial or not guilty by reason of insanity.

The Deputy Suzanne Hopper Act is intended to aid law enforcement by making more information about an individual’s mental health history available. But many questions remain about how the database created by the newly enacted legislation will be populated. BIG questions.

Under the new law, police will have better mental health information on about 600 people statewide. “But there are many, many more like this gentleman in Yellow Springs,” Kelly said. “There is no central repository of mental health records.” The need is evident.

Naturally, the gun lobby in Ohio has reservations about any type of gun control.

“We have to strike a good balance between helping people and not sticking them with a stigma,” said Jamestown resident Larry Moore, a regional leader with the Buckeye Firearms Association.

Moore said the fear of being labeled crazy and having guns seized could deter people from seeking help. “We have to be aware that that confidentiality is there so that people will go get help without fear that it will haunt them later,” he said.

A Step In the Right Direction

I believe despite the lame excuse from the Buckeye Firearms Association, the Deputy Suzanne Hopper Act is a step in the right direction. Cooperation between mental health professionals, the court system, and law enforcement saves innocent lives -- increased data sharing and proper, timely, and rigid enforcement protects citizens, officers, and the mentally ill. We must improve communication to effect safer communities.

Lethal danger in a movie theater? It is unthinkable. I hate to contemplate the actuality of facing a gunman in such a family venue. However, can't we, as a responsible society, take better proactive measures in defense of shooters? How much more could we do to guard our loved ones from those who are mentally unstable and carrying weapons? I believe much, much more.

No doubt, gun laws concerning access to firearms and those with mental disabilities should be reformed. Enough of this inane comeback: "They will find a way to get a gun, anyway." The NRA stance of "no compromise whatsoever" is a sure philosophy to an ever-more-violent society. Where some adequate, efficient laws exist, we must demand better tracking and absolute compliance.

What is the Buckeye Firearms' answer to "Surviving a Movie Theater Shooting"? On their site, Greg Ellifritz of Active Response Training gives advice that includes being well armed before entering the movies. Here is an excerpt from the article:

"If you can lawfully carry a gun, think about your weapon choice. What gun would you choose if you knew you might have to fight a shooter in a dark, smoke filled theater with dozens of panicked people running around? For me, a .38 snub or .380 auto would be at the bottom of the list. Carry enough gun to do the job. Movie theaters are large. You’ll want a gun with which you can easily hit a target 25 or more meters away. Most pocket pistols aren’t very useful for making precision shots at long range in the dark.

"Carry what you like, but when I went to the movies last Saturday night, I carried a Glock 19 with a spare mag and a bright flashlight."

(Greg Ellifritz. "Surviving a Movie Theater Shooting?" Buckeye Firearms Association.
August 05, 2015)

So everyone will be armed at the movies? For God's sake, the recent tragedies are horrible, detestable, but what have we become in our efforts to curb gun violence? Have we all bought into the NRA edict of Wayne LaPierre that “The only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is with a good guy with a gun”? That statement is so illogical, and it represents a falsehood that has prevented effective gun control from becoming a reality and has deterred other efforts to strengthen proactive defensive measures against gun violence.

Also from Buckeye Firearms, here is what Chad D. Baus, Buckeye Firearms Association secretary and BFA PAC vice chairman, is telling his members concerning movie theater shootings:

"The latest mass killings in 'no-guns' public places - a church in Charleston, SC recruiting stations in Chattanooga, TN and a movie theater in Lafayette, LA - have produced the inevitable calls for more background checks on private transfers of firearms between adults, despite the fact that, in each of these cases, the killers did not acquire their firearms via this legal method. Instead, each one of them passed background checks, and in at least two cases, they have exposed fatal flaws in the current system which prove that "universal" background checks are a myth, and will never prevent such attacks...

"There is proof beyond a shadow of a doubt that the background check database is woefully incomplete, and there can be no doubt that those calling for 'universal' background checks know this. So why, might you ask, would they continue to press for such a mandate? Could it be that it has nothing to do with prohibiting criminals from obtaining firearms, but rather, as pro-gun rights advocates maintain, that the real intent of the database is to create a gun owner registry?

"As my friend Jeff Knox has written, 'the people and organizations pushing background checks are the same people and organizations that have pushed for complete bans on certain types of guns and ammunition feeding devices, pushed for registration of all guns and gun owners, and pushed for all manner of restrictions, limitations, and controls over guns and gun owners. Their agenda hasn’t changed.'"

(Chad D. Baus. "Bureaucratic bungling proves there can never be such a thing as a "universal" background check." Buckeye Firearms Association. August 05, 2015)

So, the stance of the firearms associations is basically "all opposition to their beliefs is nothing but efforts to ban guns, and nothing works to stop those who shouldn't possess guns besides a bullet."

Most people definitely do not wish to ban guns. In the wake of Sandy Hook and other deadly mass shootings, Gallup found public opposition to a broad ban on the possession of handguns at a record-high 74%. Yet, the same poll found 58% of Americans in favor of strengthening the laws covering the sale of firearms. And, poll also finds that a record-high 47% of Americans favor passing new gun laws.

(Lydia Saad. "Americans Want Stricter Gun Laws, Still Oppose Bans." Gallup.
December 27, 2012)

In light of recent shootings, perhaps the truth is that all of us must demand tighter control and restrict illegal access to firearms. Has the NRA ever been open to compromise? I think not.

I remember when former president George H. Bush, a gun enthusiast and decades-long member of the NRA, resigned his lifetime membership from the group in 1995 because of its statements that agents of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms were "jackbooted thugs" who harassed gun owners.

Ohio Buckeye Firearms members should be aware that some gun enthusiasts consider all efforts to stop needless violence and death. And, some are just not buying everything the NRA proclaims.

Notable Ohio cases involving mental health and weapons under disability:

Sept. 23, 2008: Gregory Smith was arrested by Montgomery County deputies after threatening to kill himself and neighbors. Deputies seized three .50-caliber firearms and two smaller handguns, despite Smith being barred from owning firearms because of a criminal conviction. Smith pleaded guilty to inducing panic and other charges and was ordered to have his weapons destroyed and undergo mental health treatment.

March 12, 2011: 26-year-old James Riley used a shotgun to kill his estranged wife’s new boyfriend, then himself in the parking lot of the Frisch’s Big Boy in Middletown. Riley had previously had weapons seized because of a protection order involving his wife.

Jan. 20, 2013: In Delaware County north of Columbus, James Crego, 42, shot and killed himself during a standoff with law enforcement. Five days prior he had been ordered to surrender all weapons because of an arrest for domestic violence, aggravated menacing and disorderly conduct.

June 7, 2013: Beatrice Combs, 59, was arrested after a standoff with SWAT officers. She allegedly fired several shots at Trotwood police officers who were checking on her welfare. Police said they’d had previous contact with Combs, but she was not prohibited by law from owning a firearm. A mental health evaluation has been ordered in her pending felonious assault case.

Aug. 20, 2013: 52-year-old Al Pickett was shot and killed by Troy Police officers responding to a domestic violence call. A woman in the home suffered stab wounds from a sword and police reportedly ordered Pickett to drop a gun before opening fire. The gun turned out to be a fake. On Aug. 12 a Miami County court magistrate had issued a temporary protection order that required Pickett to surrender all deadly weapons.

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