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Licensed to kill

June 17th, 2004

According to this report, the man who killed two students and wounded five others in shootings at Monash Uni a couple of years ago is “not guilty due to mental impairment”. It’s a pity those responsible for giving him a license to own four guns didn’t inquire into his mental state first.

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  1. TJW
    June 18th, 2004 at 03:23 | #1

    Im very surprised also. I used to be a Monash student and a pistol shooter (in 1993) and remember how difficult it was to get a licence. The staff at City of Oakleigh Pistol Club were all professional and included ex-soldiers. The club was used by on-duty police to brush up their shooting. I don’t know, but its possible that this was the club he was a member of (all pistol shooters must be members of, and regularly attend, a licenced pistol club).

    There was a six month period in which the club monitored you before they would consent to you obtaining a pistol and licence (each pistol must be approved by the club). That whole time I felt I was being watched like a hawk.

    Around about the same time, I went to join the Army Reserve and remember the number of psychological tests I had to go through. By comparison, the only thing that was required of me for my pistol licence was to fill out a form which asked if I had ever had any pyschological problems.

    As for the procedural requirements, they were onerous and if adhered to would practically eliminate any chance of injury. From what I recall, not a single licenced pistol owner (bar a cop or two who killed someone while playing pranks with their guns) had ever been involved in any criminal offence involving their gun(s) in the history of that law (at least in Victoria).

    That being said, its clear to me that each applicant, for either a pistol or a rifle, should, at their own expense, see three psychologists/psychiatrists and be given the OK by all three before being permitted to obtain a pistol. Maybe they should also be required to see one every few years as well along with a Medicare records check to see if they have seen a mental health specialist.

    Its possible that this guy was sane at the time he was licenced, but obviously he wasnt that stable when he killed these people.

  2. TJW
    June 18th, 2004 at 03:24 | #2

    Hmmmm damn spelling. Forgive me, Im half asleep.

  3. Dave Ricardo
    June 18th, 2004 at 10:43 | #3

    Sanity checks at the time the gun owners applies for a licence are only of limited value. For all anyone knows, this guy might have been sane when he got his gun licence and lost his marbles some time later.

  4. James Farrell
    June 18th, 2004 at 10:53 | #4

    Students should be screened for risk factors before they are accepted into econometrics courses.

  5. June 18th, 2004 at 12:39 | #5

    “These people — and I am one of them — go through the most stringent checks when they seek to join a pistol club. Those checks are carried out by the club and police, and a mandatory probation period applies during which the prospective member is assessed by the club on attitude and performance. After that, and when the person is given a form of approval by the club recommending him or her for a pistol licence, he or she undergoes another check by police — and even then, the first licence usually allows only a small-calibre rimfire pistol.”

    - The Hon. JOHN TINGLE [3.32 p.m.]
    http://www.parliament.nsw.gov.au/Prod/Parlment/HansArt.nsf/0/abe47d1ff2e44740ca256d5e003bfb48?OpenDocument

    Translation: if you’re a nutter (with no criminal record) you only have to hold your fire (so to speak) for a probation period after joining the pistol club, and then you can have all the guns you want (or so it would seem).

    BTW, the pistol club that the gunman was apparently a member of was the Melbourne Indoor Pistol Club. A fan of that club – a Monash Uni student writing immediately post-the-murders -gushes:

    “I went there earlier this year (read about it here . . . ) and it’s a pretty fun place where you can shoot with real handguns and live ammo. They’re also an authorized Heckler and Kosh [hecklerkoch-usa.com] dealer. Check it out if you’re interested.”
    http://www.sixthseal.com/000242.html

    Peronbally, I’m amazed that there are no precedents (AFAIK), dragging pistol clubs into civil, if not criminal liability in cases such as this. The guy had *five* guns, none of which related to his work (AFAIK). If this isn’t prima facie evidence of a dangerous nutter, what is?

  6. June 18th, 2004 at 14:49 | #6

    The guy had *five* guns, none of which related to his work (AFAIK). If this isn’t prima facie evidence of a dangerous nutter, what is?

    It’s not necessarily evidence of a dangerous nutter. As I understand it, different pistol shooting competitions are held using different types of guns. Therefore, if you want to compete in multiple categories you might very well need five guns.
    While it’s a reasonable argument that allowing people to participate in pistol shooting competitions is not a sufficient reason for letting individuals own multiple lethal, concealable weapons, that doesn’t necessarily mean that there is no purpose to doing so other than going on a killing spree.

  7. Peter Murphy
    June 18th, 2004 at 14:56 | #7

    “See three psychologists/psychiatrists…”

    Don’t you mean three consultations by a psychologist or psychiatrist? I don’t see the benefits of going to multiple people – and a shrink needs a few consultations to get an idea of their psyche.

    BTW; I don’t know what screening process you can use on would-be gun-owners. Would it include screening for depression? I’ve heard (but I am willing to be corrected) that suicide rates are higher among gun owners. Many people feel suicidal now and then, but it’s the logistics of suicide that put people off. It’s painful to slit your wrists. It takes too long to rig up a noose. But with a gun, you only need one trigger finger and a moment without reflection to put yourself out of your misery.

  8. June 18th, 2004 at 15:33 | #8

    I think the diagnosis is bipolar disorder. It can surface later in life, is very hard to diagnose, and is comparatively easy to conceal unless it is florid at the time.

    It is also stimulated by stress. Press reports at the time suggested he was extremely isolated, felt he was failing badly, and had serious language issues in a complex fourth year course.

    This time round I wouldn’t blame the guns. Would any of you working academics and students feel it points to deficiencies in his educational support system?

  9. June 18th, 2004 at 18:18 | #9

    Oh Please. Obviously, anyone who commits murder has some kind of “mental impairment”. The fact that it’s able to be used as a defence in a criminal trial is one of the greatest failings of our legal system. Turning this into an attack on gun laws is cynical in the extreme.

  10. derrida derider
    June 19th, 2004 at 23:40 | #10

    Clearly, Yobbo has never dealt with anyone in the grip of a full-blown psychotic episode – such a person has no more control of or insight into their behaviour than an epileptic in the middle of a fit. That a person prone to such an episode had five pistols is evidence of a serious failure in our gun laws or their observance.

    And I hope no-one near or dear to you, Yobbo, ever has a serious mental illness – though it might teach you some compassion.

  11. observar
    June 20th, 2004 at 10:19 | #11

    Three psychologists at their own cost for obtaining a gun licence and civil liability for gun clubs who let a nutter through the net? Sledgehammer to crack a walnut. What about drivers licences and civil liability for the licensing authorities? Better return for your screening investment there, given the road ragers, etc, but….?

  12. Brian Bahnisch
    June 20th, 2004 at 11:23 | #12

    Why stop there? Why not screen the whole population for mental illness as Bush seems about to propose in this story picked up by David Tiley over at Barista?

  13. observa
    June 20th, 2004 at 19:29 | #13

    Brian’s link does raise the delicate issue as to where governments should direct their psychological testing resources first. Muslims or gun owners? A somewhat desirable but perverse case of getting the least bang for our public buck. Vote anybody?

  14. Don Wigan
    June 21st, 2004 at 08:08 | #14

    I’m on dangerous ground here, being a tech primitive.

    But I must say that Microsoft’s got a cheek patenting the mouse double-click. It’s not as if they even invented the thing or GUI.

  15. Don Wigan
    June 21st, 2004 at 11:36 | #15

    Whoops. I’ve just proved my point about being a Tech primitive. That stuff on Microsoft was supposed to be in Gunes, Smoke and Microsoft post.

  16. June 21st, 2004 at 12:06 | #16

    This needs some perspective.

    Most gun crimes are committed with guns that are not licenced. Many more people die by other “big” killers (drinking pesticide, falling down stairs, lightning strikes, terrorism). All government agencies make mistakes sometimes.

  17. Greg G
    July 19th, 2004 at 16:27 | #17

    People are always looking for easy out’s to these problems, screening everyone is laughable.

    Maybe if the government spent some of the hundreds of millions of dollars spent over the last 10 years in gun buy backs on mental health services things would be different. Penalizing legal and law abiding shooters is a quick and easy way to make the general population feel more secure.

    However, buy backs do not reduce violent crime figures from the UK show this quite clearly. I wonder how many criminals handed in their illegal firearms at the last buyback?

    Hanging suicides have increased five fold from 1979 – 1995 for Australian males aged 15 – 24 years maybe we should be asking the government to test people when they purchase rope? ( Facts from Flinders University – “Youth Suicide & Self-Injury Australia) During the same period there is a pronounced fall in shooting related suicide. The overall numeber of suicides has increased but the percentage of those firearm related has dropped. Access to firearms for minors has become more difficult and this no doubt is a contributing factor but never the less the suicide rate has increased with hanging far out weighing shooting as the most prolific form of suicide in this study. This might indicate that society is becoming more resposible as a whole to gun ownership.

    Lets face it guns and gun ownership is an emotive issue, these types of issues are far more complicated than the simple responses they are receiving make them out to be.

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