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Sound mind and sober habit ?

Dear Reader,

It has come to my attention that in the USA a man started shooting at people in the baggage reclaim area of an airport. What he did was to transport a gun by checking it in as hold luggage, he then reclaimed it. Went off to the toilet (bathroom in US english) and loaded it before embarking on his murderous rampage.

You will be interested to know that the law enforcement authorities in the USA have arrested this man, he is alive and apparently unharmed. Now this event raised some deeply disturbing issues.

According to the Daily Mail and adn the man who is suspected of having done it had some mental health problems and also had been charged with “fourth-degree assault and damage of property in January 2016, stemming from a domestic violence incident.” While the Guardian did not report that he had been in trouble for domestic violence.

As a person who was for some time a named person on a Swedish explosives license (for scientific work on fireworks) I have a view of the matter which might be slightly different to that of the general public. If a person is to be issued in the UK with either a firearms or explosives license then they must show both a genuine need to have the license and that they are a fit to hold the license for the objects or materials listed in the license.

When I went through the application process I am sure that the official at MSB applied a similar two part assessment of me and the project. The official wanted to know why I wanted the license to do the work (this relates to need) and also about me and the facility where the work was to be done (fitness). At one point I asked if I needed to prove I was (in UK terminology) a person of “sound mind and sober habit“, I was told that “it was not needed”. I suspect that MSB would have looked at me without me doing anything to make the judgement regarding the “sound mind and sober habit” question.

I think that the event at the airport is a reminder that the US should set up a licensing system, right now I think that they should concentrate on the “fitness” issue rather than the “need” issue. I know that many people in the US do not like the idea of the state knowing about their guns, I think that I have thought of a way of dealing with that problem.

I reason that if a valid gun license is needed to transport a gun by air, use a public (or private commerical) shooting range or a series of other acts then a person could apply for a license to allow themselves to do these things. If on the otherhand they do not want to transport it by courier or air or pay for access to a range then they might not have to be required to take out a license. My reasoning is that if they want to keep their gun on their own land and use it there then it might be reasonable to exempt them from the license requirement. Now lets look at some of the things which have been reported.

If a man has been acting strangely and had claimed to the FBI that he has been subject to mind control, then surely it would be reasonable to ask the question of “if he of sound mind ?“. One of the symptoms of schizophrenia is delusions, now the vast majority of people with schizophrenia are quite harmless. They tend to be more of a threat to themselves than others as a result of the way they behave. But it would be prudent for society to prevent a person who is delusional from having access to a firearm until they have obtained medical clearance to show that they are not a danger to themselves or others.

A man who has been charged with a violent crime such as domestic abuse clearly needs to be checked regarding the “sober habit” part of the question. While my biggest concern about a person who has a record of domestic abuse is that they might use a firearm or explosives to attack their partner or ex-partner. I would say in general that a domestic abuser is not a person who I would regard as being of “sound mind and sober habit“.

It is clear to me that regardless of how the NRA and the gun lobby feel about it that the US needs some form of licensing to own, keep or possess guns. Maybe this event would have been prevented if the airline had been required to see that the man held license(s) which would have permitted him to have the gun both in the place where he checked in the gun and where he was flying to.

I hold a view that it is reasonable for a person who has been charged with or arrested for some crimes to have any firearms which they own / possess taken off them by the police. However with many things abuses of the law must be prevented. I hold the view that for a law to be obeyed, some degree of respect for the law must exist. By abusing a law this law (and laws in general) will no longer be respected.

One safeguard I see is that if guns (or any other legally held article) is taken away by the police then it should remain the property (in law) of the person it was taken from. If either the police / public prosecutor drop the matter or a court orders the matter closed (in favor of the person) then the police should have to take responsibility for the prompt return of the property in the same state as it was when they took it away.

For example if the police seize a car from an innocent man then they should return the car as soon as the legal basis which they might have had at first no longer exists. I also hold the view that the keeper of the car should be paid the hire cost or a replacement car to compensate him / her for the loss of the use of the car. Also rather than being able to charge a storage fee for the car the police should have to provide the person with a partial refund for any road tax or insurance which had been purchased on the car. Also if the car is damaged, rusts or otherwise degrades while the police have it then they should have to take responsibility for getting the car repaired.

Also if the police were to take a so called dangerous dog from a person and the dog has been ordered to be returned to the person then the police should while they have the dog be required to look after the dog’s welfare (provide it with walks, feed it, keep it clean etc) while they have the dog. They should also be required to return the dog. If it is a dog which must be muzzled in public then to return the dog without a muzzle or reasonable warning to the owner in a public place then the owner should not be regarded as being guilty of having an unmuzzeled dog in a public place. Instead it would be reasonable to regard the police as being responsible for this crime.

It would be reasonable for me to hold the view that bashing holes in other people’s houses with rocks is a crime (vandalism). To set in motion an event which causes unlawful damage to the property of another person where you do not come into contact with the other person’s property, such as rolling stones down the hill towards the otherperson’s house should still be regarded as vandalism. In the same way if you perform an action which causes an act which is normally regarded as unlawful to be performed by another person against their will then you should face the penalty for the crime rather than the person compelled by your actions.

An interesting problem exists when the police lose, dispose of or damage an item which is not commercially available. For example if they seize artwork (how about Vincent VanGogh’s Sunflowers) from a person wrongly (but while they have the sincere belief that they are acting lawfully) and then rip the painting while transporting it, then this would be a difficult thing to replace or compensate a person for. I think we would need a whole room of law Profs to work out the right answer.

Another problem is that some items might be legal to own / possess but only if they were transferred to a person before a particular date. For this I have a simple solution, if the US police for example were to confiscate wrongly a M16 or antique Thompson sub-machine gun which was legally held by a person and then dispose of it wrongly. Then I reason the best way for the law to deal with the problem is for the goverment to transfer an identical item to the person and then that item is treated in law as if it was the original one. Thus the goverment would have to transfer a restricted item to a person to reverse an involuntary and wrongful transfer of a restricted item from the person to the state. The alternative is for the state to have to pay far in excess of the resale value of the item to the owner.

I suspect that the gun issue in the US is not going to be an easy matter to fix, but something needs to be done to iron out the problems.

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