Mental illness and gun violence have become big topics in the news this summer after mass shootings killed more than 30 people within a week in Gilroy, California; Dayton; and El Paso.
To me, the issue is personal: I have concerns that I will be killed by a person with mental illness and that this individual will kill himself.
Several years ago, three perpetrators raped me in my home. There was not enough evidence to get a successful prosecution.
One of them now has purchased a gun. He posted on social media earlier this year that he had done so and that he is glad to live in Arizona, where he is able to quickly and easily buy a firearm.
This man has been hospitalized a lot because of problems with his mental illness. I have had contact with his family, who shared with me the information about these hospitalizations and about his several suicide attempts.
This man knows that I have been speaking out about my sexual assault more and more so that I can heal myself and help others who have been through similar violence. He indicated his outrage about my sharing this information in a voicemail and in an email he sent me. This is the same man who almost killed me in that rape on that horrific night.
How can I verify with public officials whether this man was ever involuntarily hospitalized for his mental illness? If he was, that would prohibit him from owning a firearm under federal law.
But I may never know because of the problems with proper reporting of such information at the state levels.
I have shared my concerns about this man with my family, my friends, the police in Phoenix, Arizona (where I live), and a judge during a hearing.
Now I hope for the best, just like so many of us across Arizona, the Kansas City area, and the United States. I hope that this is not a day when gun violence enters my life.
But what else can I do at this very moment? And what can be done to protect him, too? He has attempted suicide, after all.
In 2011, U.S. Rep. Gabby Giffords (D, Arizona) was injured in an assassination attempt by a gunman near Tucson. After that, Giffords and her husband, retired astronaut Mark Kelly, became anti-gun-violence advocates.
A report by one of her advocacy organizations in this effort, the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, states: “Existing state laws do not do enough to remove access to guns from dangerously mentally ill people.” It’s in the executive summary of the report, called Commonsense Solutions: How State Laws Can Reduce Gun Deaths Associated with Mental Illness (https://t.ly/Mwl59).
Even if my perpetrator was involuntarily hospitalized for mental illness, he could still buy a gun at a gun show. That’s because with private gun sales in Arizona, there are no background checks.
The issue of wellness and guns should indeed be about common sense. At the very least, owning a gun probably presents a danger to someone with an extensive history of suicide attempts. The Giffords Law Center report states: “Suicides account for more than half of all gun deaths each year, and about half of suicides are performed with a gun.”
I was concerned about this man and his mental illness well before he had a gun. And now he has one. Isn’t there something more we can do?
This wellness information is brought to you by Ron Blake, who can be contacted at [email protected].