Guns, the mentally ill, and law enforcement

As this story shows, you never know who you will run into on any contact


It was an early, crisp, frosty, fall Saturday morning, when dispatch called.

She said a man had been parked at the local gas station for the last eight hours and was “acting strangely.”

My first thought was, ‘Why didn’t someone call seven hours ago?’ I arrived at the station and saw the car parked at the far pump occupied by a lone male...

Do You Know Who This Is?
I went inside to talk to the cashier. She told me that the driver would fuel the car with small amounts of gas, come inside, pay and then return to the car. A while later, he would come inside, walk around for a time, buy food, and return outside.

This pattern had continued throughout the night. The car’s battery had apparently died when the driver left the ignition on but not run the car.

I didn’t take me too long to determine he had mental health issues. I got his driver’s license, ran it through dispatch. The name sounded familiar but both the car and the driver’s license were from an adjoining state.

The phone rang. It was the dispatcher. She told me this was the guy who had shot an officer in my town a number of years before.

A Car Load of Guns
The officer had responded to a call of a man with a gun.During the resulting standoff, he and another officer had attempted to get the suspect to surrender. The suspect had a long history of mental health issues. The situation finally came to a head when he shot and wounded one of the officers in the arm. As a result, he was confined to a mental health facility.

I walked the driver back out to his car and saw several gun cases sitting in the back. Not unusual since it was hunting season, but in this case, obviously a greater concern than normal. He was patted down and the guns checked and found to be unloaded.

You are probably asking yourself, why is a guy who shot a police officer and then confined to a mental health treatment facility driving around with a car load of guns?

I had the same questions.

At the time, it was only illegal for someone who had been involuntarily confined to a mental treatment facility to possess a pistol, but long guns were ok. The law has changed since then.

Apparently, in the opinion of his mental health providers he was safe enough to be allowed to leave the facility in his car and drive to see his parents for several days. They had recently moved into a nursing home. He had apparently gotten the guns from his father because the nursing home didn’t allow them in their facility.

With no reason to hold him, I persuaded him into letting me jump start his car and he was on his way. On duty the next morning, I received a dispatch that the suspect was at a residence, unannounced and uninvited, and the caller, knowing his history, was terrified.

I responded and found the car in the alley. The suspect came walking out of the garage attached to the house. He told me that he had gone to the woman’s house to talk about his parents.

I patted him down and put him in the back of my squad car. The woman told me she had been cooking breakfast and saw the suspect standing in the garage staring at her through the window of the connecting door.

She quickly locked the door, locked the front door and called 911. I went back out to his car to make sure that all the guns were unloaded and noticed that one of the cases wasn’t zipped all the way closed, as required by law. I arrested him for an uncased firearm.

The firearms were confiscated. He would be released, pay his fine, and continue to return periodically to visit his parents, without the guns, which were given to one of his relatives. He was never a problem.

Let’s Focus on the Problem
The point of this story is twofold. First, you never know who you will run into on any contact. Secondly, in those days, I probably had dozens, if not hundreds, of guns go by me in cars as hunters headed to and from a day afield. I am sure I passed hundreds more in the homes of the citizens of the community that I served.

Law abiding citizens in possession of firearms never cause me any grave concern, regardless of make, model, or caliber.

Dangerously mentally-ill people and criminals concern me far more than guns, which are merely an instrument.

Laws need to change to allow the dangerously mentally ill to be included in a database to prevent them purchasing firearms. It needs to be a crime to knowingly allow someone who is dangerously mentally ill to access firearms.

Most of all, we need judges, prosecutors, and cops to enforce the gun laws that are already on the books.

About the author

In February 2014, Duane Wolfe retired from his career as a Minnesota Peace Officer after more than 25 years of service (beginning in 1988). During his career he served as patrolman, sergeant, S.R.T., Use of Force and Firearms Instructor, and is currently employed by the Parkers Prairie Police Department. He is also a full time instructor in the Law Enforcement Program at Alexandria Technical College, Alexandria, Minnesota. Duane has a Bachelor of Science Degree in Criminal Justice from Bemidji State University, and a Masters Degree in Education from Southwest State University. Duance has previously published articles on Calibre Press and IALEFI and served on the Advisory Board for Lt. Col. Dave Grossmans book, On Combat. Contact Duane Wolfe

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