Gun Control: Closing Loopholes or Restricting Access?

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Gun Show Held At Pima County, AZ Fairgrounds (Kevork Djansezian/Getty)

Welcome to Politics Bites, where every afternoon at It's a Free Country, we bring you the unmissable quotes from the morning's political conversations on WNYC. Today on the Brian Lehrer Show, NY State Senator (20th district) Eric Adams, a former NYPD captain, talked about legislation he's proposing to prevent those with mental illness from owning guns.


In the wake of the Tucson shootings, New York State Sen. Adams is proposing a bill in New York that would require mental health background checks for people renewing their gun permits. Currently in New York, the mental hygiene check that's required when first acquiring a gun license is not required for a license renewal.

Throughout the interview, Adams made one thing clear: there is not one answer to gun control.

There is not a single magic bullet, excuse the pun, that will solve the problem... You have to approach it from many different angles and this is one of the many angles... I don't think that we should all of a sudden open our mental health records to law enforcement. I don't believe in that, but we do have to make sure that individuals who have serious mental health problems that pose an immediate danger, that they are not put in a position where they can own a firearm.

Adams said in the state of New York, if a person is endangering himself or a danger to others because of mental illness and the police intervene, the first stop is the hospital. Since it isn't an arrest, the police don't inquire about gun ownership. Because of this, some people slip through the cracks. He gave an example:

I respond to a house of a person who's suffering from bipolar [disorder]. He destroys the home and threatens family members, etcetera... If I'm responding as a police officer, I'm taking him to the hospital as a person with a mental disorder. He's not going to be arrested for that action. We don't arrest people in New York City merely because of their actions due to a mental disorder... Because of that, I am not finding out if he owns a firearm unless someone in that household shares that with me willingly. I believe we need to determine if that person does have a firearm because if they're acting in that manner they should not be able to carry that firearm.

Though his bill doesn't directly propose that admitted hospital patients be questioned, he would support it and he believes checking mental health records when gun licenses are renewed could help close this loophole. Sen. Adams said he still believes in responsible gun ownership (and is a hunter, himself), but in response to the lenient gun laws in Arizona that allow the carrying of concealed guns, Adams said, no way.

Carrying permits are different from permits to own a gun where it's in your home and you decide when you want to use it in a recreational fashion, you can. Carrying permits can be extremely dangerous to individuals. Remember, even law enforcement officers make mistakes... I don't support turning any city into the wild, wild west where everyone is walking around with a nine millimeter and believing that they're going to be some modern-day police hero.

Since the shooting, Arizona is considering a new state law to allow gun carrying on college campuses. Adams thought this was a bad idea, too.

I can't believe that Arizona would even think about putting a firearm in the atmosphere of a college. I cannot start to tell you the level of really responsible thinking and shaping your mind that goes into, even a police officer, getting a firearm.

One caller, Gretel from Sunset Park, said her brother was killed by a mentally unstable gun owner in California, but she still thinks the mental health angle is the wrong way to approach gun control. It's their violent tendencies we should worry about.

I'm on anti-despressants... I don't have a violent history and this guy that killed my brother doesn't have a violent history. We both take perscription drugs, so on paper we're the same... In general the conversation seems to be that somehow if you are violent, it will be documented... but I think most people that are violent, you don't find out that they're incredible dangerous until they've severely injured or killed someone.

Even though on paper, neither Gretel nor the man she said killed her brother could legally buy guns in New York state, there's still just no way to catch everybody, Adams said.

Anytime you implement rules and procedures you never catch everyone and everything in the net. There's a lot that slips through the cracks... Many people are able to conceal their violent tendencies for years and you don't actually see them until they have some type of police or medical interaction... You attempt to close the cracks the best you can.



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Comments [22]

A Guy

Brian -

I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE this guest you had on. Honest, nuanced, smart. People talk tough about guns, but your guest spoke frankly about the heavy burden of actually pulling and firing a gun and possibly killing someone.

Keep him in your Rolodex.

On a personal note, I am pro-gun for self defense and home protection. I am also pro therapy and pro counseling.

I know that I would benefit from sitting down and talking to someone about the trauma in my life.

The idea that talking to someone about my mommy issues or daddy issues would keep my from owning a gun is absurd.

Jan. 19 2011 01:11 AM

To Eileen Clark from Brooklyn
The numbers show that:
The second safest way for a woman to deal with an assailant is to give him whatever he wants.
The safest way for a woman to deal with an assailant is to point a gun at him.
Attempting to resist with or without any other type of weapon is third.

Jan. 18 2011 11:51 AM

John Lott set out to prove statistically that more guns in a society caused more crime.
But after his study he wrote a book entitled: More Guns, Less Crime.

Jan. 18 2011 11:29 AM

Gun Owner error 2%
Police error 11%

Jan. 18 2011 10:55 AM
Eileen Clark from Brooklyn

General comment on the wisdom of owning a gun: Carrying a gun to protect oneself from fellow citizens that also may be carrying a gun, is not a safety measure at all.
I've heard military and law enforcement people well trained in the use of guns say: pulling a gun in reaction to a violent crime almost never works. It takes long, serious training in gun use, and mental training in focus and discernment, to be able to make a split second decision about whether to and how to use a gun in an emergency situation.
It is rare when a responder is able use a firearm accurately enough to bring about a safe ending to a situation that involves a gunman and a number of people gathered in one place.
How can we average citizens hope to bring about peace and security by adding even one more gun to the mix?

Jan. 18 2011 10:52 AM

Police officers have five times the error rate of shooting the wrong person as civilians.
That's probably because a carrying civilian sees, or is the intended victim of, the crime he is thwarting. The bad guy is likely to be the one demanding his money.
The police are injected into the scene later, without knowing who the bad guy is, without knowing who is the threat to themselves. So Adams story of the plainclothes officer shot by his comrades is far more common than an officer being shot by an armed witness.
In most civilian defensive gun uses, a mere display of the gun is sufficient to cause the felon to depart, without shots fired.
Armed civilians are safer than trained police. The police can't be everywhere. Armed citizens could be, if allowed.

Jan. 18 2011 10:45 AM
Jeff Pappas from Ct.

Amazing how when in the USA a half dozen
people are shot ( while tragic ) is a big deal
When in Iraq and Afghanistan dozens are being
assassinated and blow to bits daily
How about going after Rumsfeld, Bush and Cheney for the illegal invasion of Iraq ?
Have a bit of Empathy for the rest of the world the USA is Ruining !

Jan. 18 2011 10:29 AM

That gun carrier also said in an interview broadcast on one of the cable channels that he hesitated to pull his weapon because he was afraid that other carriers in the crowd might shoot him after mistaking him for an accomplice in the the assassination attempt.

Jan. 18 2011 10:27 AM
John Mark Rozendaal from Manhattan

It makes no sense to restrict gun ownership by prohibiting people who have been treated for mental illness form owing guns while allowing the untreated to own guns. "Mental health screening" for gun ownership might make sense if it were actually screening for mental fitness or illness rather than presence of absence of treatment and IF mental health were practiced in a reliable way accessible to all. As it is how can we consider allowing the psychiatric profession to determine who is fit to exercise a constitutional right?

Jan. 18 2011 10:26 AM
Aaron from Manhattan

I just returned from a holiday trip home to the midwest. I was very surprised to learn how many of my friends are now carrying guns. As a lifelong supporter of gun control I initially found this circumstance very disturbing, though after listening to their reasoning (and seeing the neighborhoods in which they reside), I had to admit it was a more complicated issue than I realized. I still don;t think it's the best answer, but I definitely appreciate how this kind of escalation happens so easily.

Jan. 18 2011 10:25 AM
Barbara from westchester county, NY

I applaud State Senator Adams's proposal. But on a national level, I wonder if something on a smaller scale can be done. For example, I recently submitted an application to adopt a rescue dog. I was required to supply 3 personal references and the reference of my current dog's vet. So, I propose if someone walks into a store to buy a gun, anywhere in the US (1) the buyer needs to supply 3 personal references and a medical reference (the store owner would have to call the references) (2) if the buyer is a member of the NRA, the NRA card should have a scan strip that taps into an NRA database showing the the buyer is a member in good standing, or (3) the buyer is a longstanding customer of the store. This at least prevents (or creates a hurdle) for individuals such as the gunmen in Tucson and Virginia Tech from getting guns (maybe) without getting into the legality of divulging someone's mental health status.

Jan. 18 2011 10:24 AM
Amy from Manhattan

I'm more worried about people w/mental illnesses that can lead to violence (let's not forget that most don't) who *aren't* on prescriptions for them. What can be done to keep *them* from getting gun licenses?

Jan. 18 2011 10:24 AM

Eric Adams bill might make sense in a place where most handguns are purchased legally, but it would be totally ineffective in NYC, where 100 % of the guns on the street are illegal.

Jan. 18 2011 10:23 AM
Katie from Huntington, NY

Why is the discussion not about regulating the amount of bullets a gun can fire at one time. Do hunters really need to fire 32 bullets in rapid succession to kill a deer. Where's the sport in that? Why is no one talking about the gun show loophole? Why does Remington continue to make a rifle that fires on its own? Rapid fire guns are meant for war, not for sport shooting and should be outlawed. The man who was carrying the gun at the Giffords slaying was afraid to use his gun for fear he would be considered the shooter by cops and eyewitnesses. If everyone carried, like in the old west, it would be a free-for-all. Ridiculous.

Jan. 18 2011 10:23 AM


I have a harsh awakening for you. Cops and firefighters don't even take a witnessed drug test.

Jan. 18 2011 10:21 AM
Andrea from nyc

What about police officers - should an officer who has ever taken prozac - even years before - have his or her gun taken away?

Jan. 18 2011 10:21 AM
Sophia from Yonkers, NY

I sought help from a psychiatrist 30 years ago and thus lost my right forever to carry a gun. these laws discourage people seeking help.

Jan. 18 2011 10:20 AM
Fafa from Harlem

Prozac prescription as disqualifier will disqualify...95% of NYers. That'll do it...Probably won't stand though.

Jan. 18 2011 10:19 AM
Tawana from Manhattan

Fatigue setting in from the constant pounding by the media on this story. we have other problems in the country.

Jan. 18 2011 10:17 AM
Mason from Qns, NY

I do not understand why a witnessed urine sample for drug screening is not required for a gun license. Also, it should be a periodic requirment to maintain your license. This of course should be done at the expense of the licensee.

Jan. 18 2011 10:14 AM
Patricia from FH

Mr Adams, how are we supposed to know if a person has a mental disorder if medical records aren't opened up?

Jan. 18 2011 10:13 AM
Edward from NJ

If someone's permit has lapsed, do the police currently proactively investigate why it wasn't renewed?

Jan. 18 2011 10:12 AM

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