The gun debate is over. Should we debate the warning signs instead?

by | Oct 29, 2023 | Comment, Detroit Free Press | 0 comments

It’s pretty clear we as a country are not budging on gun ownership. If we weren’t moved to action by the mass shooting in Maine this past week (18 dead, 13 wounded), or the one at a mall in Texas in May (nine dead, seven wounded), or the one at bank in Louisville in April (five dead, nine wounded) or the one at a Christian school in Nashville in March (six dead, three of them students), if we weren’t moved by any of the other more than 500 mass shootings this year alone in America, then we are not reachable.

Nothing on gun control will change.

So what can? If the Second Amendment is going to be a permanent deterrent against limiting the amount of firearms in this country, then what about a dangerous mind? There are no amendments that specifically address that, are there?

Perhaps that is the frontier that people who are sick of all this killing should be pointing toward. Because they are getting nowhere pointing at the weapons.

Consider what we have learned about the suspect in Maine, Robert Card, who, not surprisingly, took his own life after allegedly shooting so many others.

We now know that he was a firearms instructor and was in the Army Reserve; he knew guns and had guns.

We now know his family says it reached out to police and the military warning them that Card had been acting strange lately, that he said he was hearing voices, that they were concerned about his mental health.

We now know that Card was sent by his military superiors for psychiatric treatment over the summer because of threats he made to his base.

And yet at no point during all that — with a guy all but screaming “DANGEROUS THREAT!” — did anyone take his guns away.

All the signs were there

Most Americans have lost patience in debating whether fewer guns mean fewer killings. It’s like two walls arguing.

But if you take gun advocates’ claim that “guns don’t kill people, people kill people” — or the suggestion by U.S. Rep. Mike Johnson, the new speaker of the House, that guns are not the problem, it’s “the human heart” — then how far are we willing to go in separating bad hearts and dangerous minds from weapons?

If you really believe it’s only bad intentions that cause America to lead the world in gun violence, then ask yourself this: What could have been done in the case of Robert Card?

Here was a guy, with regular access to firearms, hearing voices, making threats, being sent for psychiatric evaluation by the military and called worrisome by his family. It’s hard to imagine a stronger case for “This man should not have weapons.”

So are we willing to go there? Allow for a quick court order and a rapid disarmament? If we can’t move on major gun laws, would we be willing to move on laws judging our behavior?

Are we willing to set up rules that if you talk like a threat, act like a threat, follow the pattern of a threat, then society is not going to wait for you to commit a violent act, it is going to disarm you immediately?

Are you ready for that? If not, then why not? If the problem is the heart and mind, and the heart and mind are flashing danger signs, shouldn’t we disarm it?

We have to do something to stop this

There are certain precedents for such thinking. If you are in line to board a plane and you make a joke about a bomb — and airline personnel overhear it — you are not getting on that plane.

If you post ugly desires about high-ranking political figures, you may well be getting a visit from the FBI.

If your ex-spouse feels threatened by something you said — not even did, just said — you might get a restraining order limiting how close you can get, not only to your ex, but to your kids.

These are small examples of warning signs engendering action. Preventive action. Why then, in the case of an apparently disturbed man like Card, would the first step not be to disarm him? If someone had done that before last week, perhaps 19 people would still be alive today, and 13 more would not be haunted by their impact with a sudden, unexpected bullet.

Wouldn’t that be worth whatever inconvenience Card might have suffered without his firearms?

Now. This is admittedly touchy stuff. There is no pure test of how far a person will go until he or she goes there. And it’s possible that Second Amendment zealots would argue that even crazy men have a right to bear arms, if only out of a fear of what constitutes “crazy.”

But we are clearly not stopping mass murders at the weapons stage. The number of guns many of these killers have is staggering. (Police have found at least three on Card or in his car, all legally purchased.)

If laws limiting weaponry are hopeless, what about laws defining a threat? If Card doesn’t qualify, no one will.

Look. One way or another, America needs to disarm, whether that means general disarming, limiting everyone’s access to certain weapons, or targeted disarming, with zero access to those who show certain warning signs.

Otherwise, a guy who kills 18 people, wounds 13 more, then kills himself, is barely worth reporting anymore, because it’s such a common stitch in the American tapestry. Is that really the blanket we want to wrap ourselves in? 

Contact Mitch Albom: Check out the latest updates with his charities, books and events at Follow him @mitchalbom.


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Mitch Albom writes about running an orphanage in impoverished Port-au-Prince, Haiti, his kids, their hardships, laughs and challenges, and the life lessons he’s learned there every day.

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