12/02 You Must Be Nuts To Want A Gun

You Must Be Nuts To Want A Gun
Larry Pratt

The Guinness Book of World Records does not yet list the category World’s Dumbest Gun-Control Law. But, if such a dubious distinction is ever acknowledged, the Massachusetts communities of Andover, North Andover, Lawrence and Methuen will definitely be in the running for such a singularly asinine achievement. Why?

Because they have “recently expanded their requirement that applicants for a new gun license must get a doctor’s letter stating that they are medically and psychologically fit to have a gun,” according to a story in U.S. News & World Report magazine (4/1/02). Says Andover Detective Sgt. Donald Pattullo: “We want to make sure we aren’t giving a guy a gun who shouldn’t have one.”

And, yes, I did note the date of this article, April 1st, April Fool’s Day. But, alas, neither this article nor this ludicrous “requirement” are a joke.

In an interview, Detective Sgt. Pattullo explains that four years ago Massachusetts passed a law requiring the Department of Mental Health to check its records to see if any applicants for gun licenses had ever been treated by their Department. If so, no gun.

But, there was a problem. The Mental Health Department, says Pattullo, was “so under-staffed that you never got anything back from them. So, in essence, people would never be able to get their gun permits.”

    Q: Which is what the gun-control people wanted, right?

    A: Yeah, yeah.

So, because of this back-log problem, the chiefs of police in the Greater Lawrence area got together with the presiding justice of the Lawrence District Court. They decided that to get a permit to carry, you would have to get a doctor’s note, from your doctor, on his letterhead, “stating that at this particular time, you have no — in his opinion — mental or physical problems that would prohibit you from carrying a firearm.”

For years, this doctor’s-note was necessary for only first-time applicants. No doctor’s note was required for a renewal which is every four years. But, now, you need a doctor’s note for any renewal, too.

Why the change? Well, a few years ago, a prominent doctor in the area discovered his wife was committing adultery. When she was in the hospital for medical reasons, her boyfriend visited her. This doctor got his gun, went to the hospital, and shot his wife’s lover dead. So, says Pettullo, the chiefs felt that if the doctor who committed this murder had been required to get a doctor’s note to renew his gun permit, “that maybe, just maybe, he wouldn’t have been able to get [his gun].”

Say what?! The murderer here might have been stopped if the murderer had been required to get a note from his doctor? Excuse me, but the murderer was a doctor! So much for the idea that if a “doctor” says you’re OK to have a gun then you’re OK.

    Q: How do you know that the doctors writing these notes are themselves not nuts?

    A: (laughing) Well, you would just hope the Medical Board is on top of this stuff.

Detective Sgt. Pettullo explains that anyone required to get a doctor’s note does not have to undergo any kind of psychological examination. All that’s required is this “extra step” of a note where “maybe a physician would say, ‘Wait a minute, I’ve known you for years and I’m not gonna give you a note because you’ve had some problems in the past.'” Every human being, over the years, has, of course, had “some problems,” whatever this means.

    Q: OK. So, your requirement specifies no standard test by a doctor, no standardized investigation, no specific mental or physical tests. Some doctor, who may or may not be qualified to judge a person’s mental and/or physical state, just writes a note which says yes or no to getting a gun?

    A: Right. Exactly.

Pettullo reiterates that the doctor’s note says only that a person is mentally and physically fit to get a gun “at this time, at this specific time, I feel this fella sitting in front of me does not have any mental or physical problems.”

    Q: But, if the doctor has no expertise in assessing the mental and/or physical state of the person in front of him, of what value is his note? What would such a doctor really know about that person?

    A: He doesn’t.

When Petullo is asked if he was a doctor, would he really want to run the risk of writing a note saying a person is OK, then have that person go out and shoot someone? Pettullo says this has been discussed but is unlikely. Why? Because — once again: “The doctor is saying only that the person is OK at this time.”

    Q: You mean OK but, literally, only at the instant the note is written, yet five minutes later he could be nuts?!

    A: Right.

    Q: So, how has this doctor-must-write-a-note-requirement-to-get-a-gun reduced crime by people using guns?

    A: I have no idea.

    Q: Seriously, does this requirement strike you as an effective crime-fighting tool?

    A: I don’t know. It could be. What if it saves one life?

Ah, but what if this absurd requirement causes the loss of one life? What if this idiotic requirement has already denied only one person a gun, a gun this one person might have used (if he had gotten one) to save his own life or the lives of his family or friends? This possibility is never considered by the anti-Second Amendment, anti-self-defense, gun-grabbers when they pass their laws.

Oh, and no, says Detective Pettullo, of course not. No members of the police departments of Andover, North Andover, Lawrence and Methuen are ever required to bring notes from their respective doctors saying that they are mentally and/or physically OK to have guns.