Thursday, June 30, 2005
Carmel on the Case: Buying Guns
Just about everyday, we learn about people being gunned down in South Florida. And tonight, 7 News exposes a fatal flaw in state background checks for the mentally ill. In her special assignment report, investigative reporter Carmel Cafiero explains why the current system is "off target."
WSVN--In the wrong hands, guns can cause unspeakable misery. That's why we have laws to regulate who can legally own them. But 7 News has discovered there's a big hole in how background checks are conducted. Basically, anybody who's deemed mentally ill by the courts must admit it on the application or there's no way of proving it.
Mother: "When he goes into the mania he is, he could be a raging homicidal maniac."
This woman is haunted by her son's experience. To protect him, she asked we not reveal her identity. He bought a glock handgun - similar to this one - despite a long history of mental illness.
Mother: "He was reading Tom Clancy novels and thought he was going to get a job in the CIA"
But after he got the gun - he started seeing demons and dialed 911.
This is the tape of that call.
Man: "He's coming in the house! He's coming in the house!
911 Operator: "You're crying. Tell me what's going on please."
His mother says he was naked in his bedroom on the floor and she had to sit on him to restrain him.
Mother: "It was really bad and I heard these unbelievable blood curdling screams coming out of his room."
Mother: "And he said there are people in the house trying to kill us."
911 Operator:"Stop screaming. Take it easy - take it easy!"
Eventually, police arrived at the home and the son was hospitalized. But the entire time, the glockgun he purchased was sitting right on his bed and hundreds of bullets were spread all over the room.
Mother: "Yeah he was seeing phantoms. He was seeing demons. And he would have shot at something that he thought wasn't there."
The son was able to get the gun because he lied on his firearm form. Item "f" asks if the buyer has ever been found mentally defective or committed to a mental institution. We have learned the Florida department of law enforcement - which conducts background investigations - has no way to check if the answer is truthful.
Donna Uzzell with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement: "There is a real public safety risk when persons who should be prohibited from purchasing a firearm are able to do that."
Donna Uzzell is the director of criminal justice information services for FDLE in Tallahassee.
It determines who can buy a gun by accessing criminal records through the FBI, but like most states, the courts in Florida do not report people who have been found to be mentally deficient.
Donna Uzzell: "There is no single source location for that information nor do we have the legal authority to collect that information."
But that may be changing.
Carmel Cafiero: "Do you think this is a dangerous hole in the system? "
Rep. Sandy Adams: "I think it can be and I think it's one that needs to be plugged."
State Representative Sandy Adams of Orlando has a bill she will submit at the next legislative session. It would require all 67 counties to report mentally ill people to a central database. A database FDLE then could access.
Rep. Sandy Adams: " I had just assumed, like I'm sure a lot of other people, that this was being done."
This mother assumed the law would stop her mentally ill son from purchasing a gun. When it didn't - she tried to stop the sale at the store.
Mother: "They said your son is an adult. This is confidential. We don't have a right to speak to you."
Carmel Cafiero: "The gun store's manager didn't want to appear on camera. But he told me by phone he's not a doctor - and that he was offered no proof that the man was in fact, mentally ill."
Walter Philbrick - who owns a separate gun store - admits the issue can be tricky. He says decisions are often a matter of ethics.
Walter Philbrick with International Protective Services:" We do get calls before they arrive here at the gun shop that they're coming here to buy a firearm from the police and also family members. We will not sell them a gun."
But it's easy for gun dealers to get "off target" without the law as a back up. And at this point a wrong decision could have - deadly results.
If you have a story for Carmel:
Call her in Dade at 305-627-CLUE
Or in Broward at 954-921-CLUE