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Mental illness matters when the issue is concealed weapons

Alaska editorial

Posted: Monday, November 19, 2001

The following editorial appeared in Saturday's Anchorage Daily News:

In the fall of 1998, a clerk in an Anchorage store noticed a man who was completely soaked, with water dripping off him. The clerk asked if he needed help. Timothy Wagner replied that he needed to soak out the chemicals that had been injected into him, or else the chemicals were going to kill him. He also said a computer chip had been implanted in his head. What he didn't say was that he was carrying a concealed weapon in his briefcase.

Under Alaska law, the delusional Mr. Wagner had every right to be packing heat. He had a concealed weapons permit, and thanks to a law passed in early 1998, it is perfectly legal for mentally ill people to get and keep concealed weapons permits.

This dangerous aberration in state law was revealed last week in an Alaska Court of Appeals ruling. A judge had tried to revoke Mr. Wagner's concealed carry permit on grounds of mental illness. The 1998 law barred the judge from doing so. It was part of a rewrite of state laws liberalizing access to concealed weapons; the law went into effect after the Legislature overrode Gov. Tony Knowles' veto.

Thankfully, Mr. Wagner didn't hurt anyone during his armed encounter. But it's easy to imagine a different and more deadly outcome. Just eight blocks away from the store in question is Mountain View Elementary School - the same school where a mentally imbalanced man slashed and nearly killed four students in May.

The judge found another way to keep Mr. Wagner from legally carrying his concealed weapon. She imposed a ban on possessing firearms as a condition of Mr. Wagner's probation on a related offense.

This is a no-brainer: Someone who is not in full possession of his mental faculties should not be in possession of a concealed weapon, with all the attendant risks of injury to himself or others. Imagine the public uproar if some mentally unstable individual should commit mayhem with a weapon permitted under this loophole in the law.

We're all for destigmatizing mental illness and reconsidering restrictions based on old prejudices. But that doesn't mean the state has to give mentally dysfunctional Alaskans the right to carry a gun. While we're all thinking a lot about homeland security, this is a question the Legislature should examine again - soon.



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