I have been a hunter and completely support our right to keep and bear arms. I was taught as a Boy Scout that gun ownership comes with responsibility for gun safety. Recent legislation made it apparent that our federal legislators did not seem concerned about gun safety. They passed a cleverly named bill titled, “Guns For America.” The name sounds patriotic, but it should have been named “Guns for veterans deemed mentally incompetent by the VA” bill.
Veterans deemed “mentally incompetent” by the VA, historically, were placed on a list of individuals who could be denied a weapons permit. About 19,000 veterans have been diagnosed as schizophrenic, and 15,000 with “severe” PTSD. These 34,000 are part of 178,000 veterans who have significant mental illness.
According to the Department of Defense, 20 veterans commit suicide each day, which is 50 percent greater than the general population. Most suicides are by gunshot. The Guns for America bill will make it easier for veterans to kill themselves, and not only themselves, but others.
We have the best trained military in the world and our soldiers have learned to kill well to eliminate the enemy. I am proud of our military and appreciate their service. Unfortunately, on record are about 350 veterans who have committed mass murder against American citizens. Timothy McVeigh was decorated for valor in Desert Storm. He killed more than 168 people in the Oklahoma City bombing. Esteban Santiago, an Iraq war veteran, shot and killed five people in Fort Lauderdale this year. Arron Alexis, a Navy vet, shot and killed 12 people in 2013, and the list goes on.
You might say that these vets should be able to go deer hunting. Thanks to Pennsylvania Act 168, they can now hunt small game with a semi-automatic rifle. Most hunters take pride in being a very good shot. Anyone who needs a semi-automatic rifle to hunt must be a poor shot and does not deserve to be in the woods with the rest of us. Besides, the AR-15, in the hands of anyone, can fire 30 rounds in five seconds, and penetrate the body armor of law enforcement officers. Any hunter worth his or her salt should not need a semi-automatic rifle to hunt.
Fourteen retired admirals and generals from all branches of the military opposed the deceptively worded “Guns in America” bill. Many congressmen voted for it against the advice of highly decorated military leaders. I certainly support the right of responsible gun owners, but mentally ill people, veterans included, should not have open access to guns.
How many of you gun owners want mentally ill people to have easy access to military-grade weapons? Granted these veterans, many of whom have been deemed incapable of even doing their own finances, will get a hearing from a judge before they can get their gun. But when did judges become mental health experts?
Preferably before, but if and when another veteran commits a mass murder with a gun, will we responsible gun owners tell our congressmen that letting mentally ill people have easy access to dangerous weapons was a mistake? A well-trained veteran with an AR-15 could wipe out a classroom full of children in seconds. The killing of law enforcement officers, innocent civilians or another veteran suicide, most likely will be the unintended result of this recent bill. Responsible gun owners should expect responsible gun laws.
James Serene lives in College Township.