Maryland Weighs Gun Access for Mentally Ill
After narrowly avoiding what could have been a tragic follow up to the Aurora theater shootings this summer, Maryland is considering new laws to keep firearms out of the hands of potentially dangerous people. The state is in the midst of panel discussions about whether it should modify its rules on accessibility to guns for people with mental illnesses.
The panel comes in the wake of the arrest of Neil Edwin Prescott, who allegedly told his boss over the phone in July, “I am a joker, I’m going to load my guns and blow everybody up,” after being fired from his job at a subcontractor of postage machine company Pitney Bowes. Prescott, 28, also told his boss he would like to see his “brain splatter all over the sidewalk,” according to court documents. The threats came just a week after the Aurora shootings, in which James Holmes dyed his hair orange and shot up a theater full of Batman fans, in an apparent homage to the cartoon villain, the Joker.
Prescott had the arsenal to carry out the threat. When police arrived at his home, they found 25 guns and thousands of rounds of ammunition. He was charged with misusing the telephone, placed under the care of mental health experts and stayed in a psychiatric facility for three weeks until he was released to the custody of his parents.
Maryland doesn’t have a felony law against general threats, so Prescott is only being charged with a misdemeanor. All of his guns were legally purchased, and he possessed a collector’s license that allowed him to bypass the state’s restriction allowing only one gun purchased per month. Depending on the outcome of his case, there may be nothing to stop him from acquiring more firearms in the future.
Checks and Balances
Something the panel will consider is how to protect the Second Amendment rights of state residents while at the same time creating safeguards to keep weapons out of the hands of people who have shown a propensity for violence. At the first meeting in August, attorneys debated from different sides of the issue.
Tara Harrison from the Maryland State’s Attorneys’ Association told the group, “Just speaking from the state’s attorneys’ perspective, there really is a problem on an ongoing basis where we’re seeing that more and more persons who appear at least to have had some mental health issues — we’re finding that they’ve been in the possession of firearms and then they’re using those firearms.”
On the other hand, advocates wanted to make sure that any new rules do not become a vehicle for discrimination. “We just want to make sure that if there’s going to be any further restrictions it’s not based on just the diagnoses or just the fact of treatment, but that there be a direct link to something that’s kind of more objective in terms of saying this person could be violent and we want to protect the public from this person,” said Laura Cain, managing attorney at the Maryland Disability Law Center.
Maryland state law currently blocks anyone who has been in a mental facility for 30 consecutive days from buying a gun. However, the law lacks nuance and doesn’t account for people who have been confined for non-violent afflictions, nor does it put a check on people who are known to have violent tendencies but have not spent time in a facility, or who have been in and out of one but never for 30 days at a time.
Any recommendations the panel comes up with for legislation will be revealed in December.
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