Law would discourage gun owners from seeking needed help

Eric Wooten
Published 7:18 pm, Monday, August 18, 2014

Assembly member Nancy Skinner, a Berkeley Democrat, says AB1014 provides a “gun restraining order” that keeps guns out of the hands of those too dangerous to be trusted with them.

But make no mistake: This is an unproved, unsound, unaffordable and likely unconstitutional bill that could cost lives.

Skinner’s bill establishes criminal procedures that can make private medical information public record. It also suspends civil liberties based on hearsay evidence. And AB1014 offers no method of expunging this information, providing an avenue for abuse by employers and others.

Most important, it provides an enormous disincentive for gun owners to seek professional or familial help by criminalizing their mental and substance-abuse problems, thereby pushing further into darkness those who need help the most.

I have worked at a substance-abuse facility. Forty years ago, my grandfather helped pioneer the substance-abuse program used by the state employees union. I was dragged to AA meetings as the child of an alcoholic parent. My father died from alcoholism.

I am also a liberal gun owner, which means that I often find myself either a closeted gun owner among fellow liberals or a closeted liberal among fellow gun owners.

All these experiences tell me this bill is a barrier to gun owners who need to seek treatment. Thirty years of a failed war on drugs should have taught us that instead of punishing people for their illnesses, we must offer to help them.

AB1014 also forces citizens to choose between their right to confidential medical treatment and their other civil liberties. Restricting civil liberties shouldn’t be our first solution to every problem; it should be our last. Has any significant restriction of civil liberties seemed like a good idea 20 years later? History will similarly judge AB1014, and almost none of the reasons will have to do with the Second Amendment.

But what if this bill could stop another Newtown tragedy? Wouldn’t it be worth sacrificing civil liberties?

AB1014 is modeled on Connecticut law that was in place before the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting took place. Maybe that law didn’t cause the Lanzas to become the isolated household of gun owners they were, but it certainly didn’t get them the help they so obviously needed. It didn’t take guns out of the hands of a dangerous individual.

Lastly, this bill puts an enormous, unfunded burden onto local courts subject to years of devastating cuts.

Domestic-violence cases and restraining orders are already suffering because of an overworked, underfunded court system. Long lines, court employees unable to help victims complete complicated forms, processing delays and elimination of court reporters have all adversely affected these cases.

This bill adds significant burdens to the court system without any additional funding, meaning it could further jeopardize the safety of domestic-violence victims.

Instead of focusing efforts on the chronic root causes of social ills, AB1014 is a giant step backward for both civil liberties and mental-health policy.

While the intention is noble, we must not enact measures like this one, which could cause the very tragedies it is meant to avert.

Eric Wooten is the president of the Liberal Gun Owners Association and spent 10 years in Sacramento fighting for higher taxes, more services, reproductive choice, environmental protection, labor rights and civil liberties.


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