Special Report: Exploring mental illness and gun rights in Ameri - WVVA TV Bluefield Beckley WV News, Weather and Sports

Special Report: Exploring mental illness and gun rights in America


BLUEFIELD, W.Va. -- The gunman who shot and killed nine people and injured nine others at an Oregon community college last month had 14 firearms. Officials say they were all purchased legally. After the massacre, President Obama immediately demanded gun control action, and was met with fierce backlash from gun rights activists. With America ranking number one in firearms per capita, we are plagued with many questions. For instance, are guns the problem, and just how easy are they to purchase? 

"Guns are not the issue, it's always the people," said Miranda Walls, an accounting student at Concord University.

Miranda Walls visits her brother Dakota on the weekends at a treatment facility in Indiana. He was shot in the neck during a domestic dispute last December. The shooting took the life of his friend and left him paralyzed.

"You always think it's happening to someone else. But to someone else, you are someone else," Walls said.

Miranda's friend Anna Brogan says recent events at home and across the country have heightened her awareness, especially on campus.

"It's surreal, because we -- especially in West Virginia and small towns like ours-- don't expect something like that to happen," said Brogan, "and it happens in big places and in tiny little country areas like ours."

From a mass shooting at a quiet community college in Oregon to an officer-involved shooting in downtown Bluefield and the killing of two Roanoke, Virginia journalists on air, gunfire has sparked an outcry from people on both sides of the aisle. President Obama is demanding gun control, while activists are saying guns are not the issue, but a solution to the problem.

"Pretty much everything that I've read or seen in the last little bit on any of these tragedies have been in a gun free zone, a publicized gun free zone, which to somebody who's mentally unstable, it appears that's a way of knowing they are not going to be deterred," said Jerry Cochran, owner of Trader Jerrys. "Had anyone else had the ability to protect themselves at any of these situations, it probably would have ended differently than it has."

Gun control advocates point out that most mass shooters aren't afraid of being killed, especially those suffering from mental illness. It's an issue that everyone agrees needs to be recognized, a responsibility that not only falls on the shoulders of healthcare providers, but also gun store owners and even teachers.

"If we see something suspicious we need to report it," said Lindsey Akers, an instructor of Communication Arts at Concord University. "If we see students in the classroom that aren't acting correctly, maybe acting a little bit strange, we want them to get them help with the services that the community and campuses offer."  

"We are liable," added Cochran. "We are liable for what happens with these guns so we have to make decisions on how people act." 

In the state of Virginia, the background check process begins with state and federal forms which are processed through NICS (National Instant Criminal Background Check System) and Virginia State Police. The process takes approximately ten minutes. The results are basically instantaneous, yet the final decision rests in the hands of the seller. 

"You know most often, it's under the influence of alcohol or someone comes in in a mad rage, we wouldn't sell them a gun ... or if somebody just acts different, if that makes any sense to you," said Cochran. "I can't explain it to ya, but I do it all the time."

It's not an easy task, to hold gun sellers and buyers accountable, while keeping them out of the hands of the wrong people.

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