The Dallas Morning News
It’s time. Time to talk about the mentally ill and their Second Amendment rights.
It was time to talk about it back in 2007, after the Virginia Tech massacre. It was time to talk about it in December 2012, after Adam Lanza emerged from his mother’s basement with an armful of weapons and made his bloody way through Sandy Hook Elementary.
It was time to talk about it last year, when Omar Mateen, with his history of domestic violence and scrutiny by the FBI, opened fire at the Pulse night club in Orlando with guns he had legally bought only two weeks before.
For years it’s been time to talk about the Second Amendment and its limits.
Now it’s time, once more, in the wake of the Jan. 6 bizarre and deadly mass shooting at Terminal 2 in the Fort Lauderdale airport.
Five more people were killed, six more injured. Once again the shooter turns out to have been very much on law enforcement’s radar. Less than two months before the shooting, New Jersey native Esteban Santiago walked into an FBI office in Anchorage, where he was living, and asked for help.
He told agents that the CIA was controlling his mind and he was being forced to watch Islamic State propaganda videos. Local police were called, and they confiscated his pistol and ammunition. They checked Santiago into a local psychiatric hospital, where he stayed for four days.
His brother told reporters he has no reason to believe Santiago had received any further treatment. But a month later, after the FBI determined he had broken no laws by his strange behavior, Anchorage police returned his pistol to him.
Why? Why would he get his gun back with no further evaluations or treatment?
We do know that Santiago’s mental state had been deteriorating since returning from Iraq. His family attests to that, and so does his military record, which includes a demotion for unsatisfactory conduct last year, and an eventual discharge. The local police record shows that his girlfriend at the time reported that he had flown into a rage and broke down the bathroom door during a fight.
He wasn’t prosecuted for that outburst, and we can assume he did not lose his right to keep and bear arms. It’s time to ask why that is.
Of course, not every American with mental illness should be barred from owning and keeping firearms. It’s likely that in the vast majority of cases such illness does not render gun ownership dangerous. And Santiago’s story is not just about guns. He needed help long before he entered the FBI office in November. Many, many veterans do.
But it’s time, past time, for us to start asking more questions about gun rights when the owners’ mental state, especially combined with a history of violence, suggests they aren’t stable. Before the next shooting reminds us of our failure to act.
This editorial appeared in The Dallas Morning News on Monday.