Defensive gun use underscores our crisis in mental health

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A 21-year old Louisiana man with a lengthy history of mental health commitments and contacts with law enforcement was shot and killed this week in what police are as describing as an act of self-defense. The shooter? The young man’s own father, who was forced to defend himself and his wife against an attack by their own son in their home.

The son, 21, was wearing a bulletproof vest and armed with a handgun when he went to his parent’s residence. He began arguing with his mother, though the investigators did not say what sparked the disagreement.

The man’s unidentified father returned home at some point, and the argument escalated. The son drew his gun, prompting his father to shoot fire his own gun, the Sheriff’s Office said.

Deputies found the son suffering from more than one gunshot wound inside the house. He was pronounced dead at the scene.

Neither the man’s mother nor father were injured, according to Maj. Donnie Smith, a Sheriff’s Office spokesperson. No one has been arrested in connection with the shooting, though the case is under investigation.

According to the St. Charles Parish Sheriff’s office, the 21-year old was known to law enforcement because of his past “unstable and violent” behavior, yet clearly neither the criminal justice system nor the state’s mental health system adequately addressed that behavior or was able to curb it.

How deep is the crisis in the state’s mental health system? Well, the head of the Louisiana Rural Mental Health Alliance says about 1 in every 25 Louisianans suffer from some form of mental illness, but there are only enough licensed therapists for every 1 in 340 residents. And like the vast majority of states across the country, Louisiana could use many more additional beds for inpatient psychiatric patients who need acute care.

Why was this troubled young man not in a secure facility? So far, we don’t have any answers. All we know is that a father was forced to do the unthinkable; shoot his son in order to protect himself and his wife from a deadly attack at the hands of their offspring.

I can’t imagine how devastated this man’s parents must be, especially knowing that their son had been introduced to the state’s mental health system without success in the past.

Most gun control activists would see this tragic tale as an argument in favor of “red flag” gun seizure laws, but they would have been of no help here. We don’t know for sure whether the 21-year old had been formally adjudicated as mentally ill, which would have stripped him of his ability to legally possess a firearm, but we do know that Extreme Risk Protection Orders (as they’re generally known) rarely have any mental health component to them. Typically, an individual subject to an ERPO order is declared to be a danger to themselves or others by a judge, who then orders any legally-owned guns to be taken from them for a specified period of time. The supposedly dangerous person, however, is still free and clear to go out and buy knives, gasoline, matches, or anything else they might use as a weapon against others, including any gun they obtain through illicit means.

Louisiana has its share of issues in the criminal justice system as well, but state’s crisis in mental health services cannot be ignored, and the Democrats’ continued calls for more gun control laws are no substitute for the type of real work that needs to be done to fix the failing system. This defensive gun use shouldn’t have had to happen, because the troubled young man who attacked his parents should have been receiving the treatment he needed.