Americans are divided on many things, including gun control.
But there’s one gun-control issue that has broad support, according to a poll taken in March by The Associated Press and NORC Center for Public Affairs Research at the University of Chicago:
“More than 8 in 10 Americans favor a federal law preventing mentally ill people from purchasing guns,” the AP reported March 23.
Earlier in March, just three weeks after the Valentine’s Day massacre at a Parkland high school, Florida Gov. Rick Scott signed into law a series of gun-control proposals.
Among those measures is a 14-page law designed to temporarily prevent people “at high risk of harming themselves or others from accessing firearms.”
Among the tests used to determine whether guns can be seized is whether “the person poses a significant danger, including danger as a result of a dangerous mental health crisis or violent behavior.”
In other words, the vast majority of mentally ill people are free to continue to possess weapons in Florida.
That’s OK. Most mentally ill Floridians are not dangerous and should retain their constitutional right to bear arms. To do otherwise would stigmatize mental illness even more.
But not everyone will get to keep their guns. As of mid-May on the Treasure Coast, judges had ordered two residents in St. Lucie County and one in Indian River County to turn over their guns for up to a year.
At a hearing in St. Lucie County, Adam Fetterman, attorney for the St. Lucie County Sheriff’s Office, got Circuit Judge Janet Croom, who handles mental health matters, to issue such an order on a man who brandished a gun while walking half-naked and acting unusually in a parking lot.
Neither the man nor an attorney for him was there to fight the order. Sheriff’s officials received cooperation from families in the other cases, so there have been no protracted legal battles.
Not all cases will be as simple.
On April 2, a circuit judge in Orlando lifted a temporary restriction on firearm possession against a student at the University of Central Florida.
Police investigated a 21-year-old student after he used social media to call alleged mass murderers in Parkland and Las Vegas heroes. The student allegedly told police he would probably shoot up the middle or high schools where he was bullied if provoked by a tragic life event, according to the Orlando Sentinel.
The student’s attorney said her client was punished for legally protected speech.
“She argued (the student) had not done anything to suggest he would act on the comments,” the Sentinel reported. “He had not purchased a weapon, and he does not have a criminal record … he would have voluntarily relinquished his gun rights had he been given the option.”
The student didn’t even have a gun.
Recently, I wrote about the case of Timothy Sartori, 29, an Iraq War veteran from Sebastian who shot to death a Fort Pierce man at 7 p.m. Nov. 16 while the two were stopped at a traffic signal on State Road 60 at 53rd Avenue.
Sartori feared for his life after the Fort Pierce man pulled up alongside him, threatened to shoot him and reached for something. Sartori, who legally carried a 15-round Glock 9mm semi-automatic pistol on his lap, said he thought he saw a weapon and unloaded his gun.
Assistant State Attorney Steve Gosnell declined to press charges, citing Florida’s “stand your ground” law.
In his report, Gosnell mentioned comments from Sartori’s girlfriend that he suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder. Among his symptoms, she said: trouble sleeping, over-anxiousness and hyper-vigilance.
Would Sartori be a candidate for a risk protection order?
Doubtful, said Jim Harpring, the Indian River County Sheriff’s Office undersheriff and legal counsel.
“If he’s not recklessly displaying (the gun) when he drives, probably not,” said Harpring, noting that Gosnell opined Sartori legally discharged his weapon.
“People seek mental health help all the time, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re mentally ill,” said Harpring, whose boss, Sheriff Deryl Loar, pleaded earlier for Sartori to be charged.
The devil is in the details as far as risk protection orders go. State Rep. Erin Grall, R-Vero Beach, an attorney, told me recently those details likely will be reviewed by the Legislature, which passed the law quickly. The court system is facing some of the vague aspects and unintended consequences of the law.
Some issues the Legislature might consider are: 1) definitions of mental illness; 2) whether folks accused of being dangerous should have the right to legal counsel or recover legal fees if they’ve been wrongly accused; and 3) safety issues regarding seizure of weapons.
Just because we all agree and a law was passed doesn’t mean deadly problems will be solved.
The bottom line: Senate Bill 328 is not a panacea. Potentially dangerous folks with mental illness will continue to access guns even if they’re ordered not to. But the law is a step in the right direction.
This column reflects the opinion of Laurence Reisman. Contact him via email at [email protected], phone at 772-978-2223, Facebook.com/larryreisman or Twitter @LaurenceReisman.
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