Saturday, February 16, 2008

The system failed this young man and us

This week, a gunman left six people dead at Northern Illinois University.

DEKALB, Ill. - Steven Kazmierczak's quiet, dependable and fun-loving exterior masked troubling details from his past that emerged as a stunned community struggled to understand what caused the 27-year-old to open fire on a class at Northern Illinois University, leaving six people dead.

A former employee at a Chicago psychiatric treatment center said Kazmierczak was placed there after high school by his parents. She said he used to cut himself, and had resisted taking his medications.

He also had a short-lived stint as a prison guard that ended abruptly when he didn't show up for work. He was in the Army for about six months in 2001-02, but he told a friend he'd gotten a psychological discharge.

The article goes on to indicate that Kazmierczak had a medical discharge from the Army based upon his psychological condition. Reading on we discover the he was still legally permitted to purchase and own firearms. They only did a criminal background check on him and his state-issued firearms permit background check probably didn't uncover any anomalies with his mental history.

My question on that is simply why not?

When I applied for my firearms permit, they did exhaustive checks on me and then called all of my references. I was at my best friend's house when the sheriff's office called to ask him if he felt safe in the knowledge that I might be carrying a gun. That experience made me confident that the Pennsylvania system was at least making the attempt to ensure that guns aren't being carried by complete lunatics.

My beef here is three-fold:

First, a person with a known history of mental problems was still able to purchase and own firearms. I'm a Second Amendment and firearm supporter but I do acknowledge that there are segments of society that should probably not be allowed to possess guns, the mentally infirmed being among them.

Second, incidents like this tend to give the law-abiding gun enthusiasts a black eye, one which we generally seem powerless to prevent. Sure, we have the NRA on our side, but they're already tainted with the perception that they're the front group for a bunch of gun-toting extremists. The end result of this shooting and others like it is that the media will concentrate only on the guns and by extension the rest of us who keep ours in a peaceful and law-abiding manner.

Finally, institutions like this university tend to prohibit firearms anywhere on their campus, and if just one person in the classroom had been lawfully carrying a concealed weapon, there may not be six people dead in Illinois right now. It's the liberal anti-gun establishment that should be required to shoulder at least some of the responsibility for the lack of protection these six young people received.

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