Gun Control: Closing Loopholes or Restricting Access?

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.