Last updated: April 20. 2014 4:01AM - 1246 Views

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Should a man with a long history of mental health issues have 54 guns in his house?

Most reasonable people would say no, but that appears to have been the case with 62-year-old Rodney Bruce Black of Barboursville.

Black has been indicted on two counts of murder in the Jan. 25 shooting deaths of Garrick Hopkins, 60, and his brother Carl Hopkins Jr., 61, of Oak Hill, W.Va. They were attempting to open a shed on the adjacent property, which Garrick Hopkins had just purchased, when shots rang out from a bedroom window.

Black is charged with firing the fatal gunshots without warning with a .243-caliber rifle. Neighbors had described Black as reclusive, but his public defender went a step further during a recent hearing and revealed the defendant had a history of mental health problems going back 30 years.

Circuit Judge Paul T. Farrell ordered Black to a state mental hospital for evaluation and treatment. But the case also raises many questions about whether the defendant’s possession of weapons ever came up in his past brushes with mental health care.

So far, investigators have said little about how Black came to have the 37 long guns and 17 handguns found in his home — how they were acquired and over what period of time. Federal law prohibits people ruled to be mentally defective or committed to a mental institution from purchasing or owning guns.

But the system in place to prevent that is inadequate and flawed.

Background checks are required for many gun purchases, and those requests should be run through the FBI database, housed near Clarksburg, W.Va. It does have 2.51 million mental health entries, but there are also gaps, because states are inconsistent about what they report and at least 17 states barely participate at all.

For example, the man charged with shooting Mingo County Sheriff Eugene Crum bought his pistol just 10 months after leaving a mental hospital. Information on Tennis Maynard’s history apparently was not in the FBI data base; moreover, federal investigators have charged that he lied about his mental illness on his gun permit application.

But the system also does not include people whose mental illness histories do not rise to the level of a court ruling or commitment. The shooters at the Washington Navy Yard and Sandy Hook Elementary School, Aaron Alexis and Adam Lanza, both fall into that category. Spc. Ivan Lopez, who killed three people and wounded 16 earlier this month at Fort Hood, Texas, had been under the care of military doctors for depression, anxiety and sleep disorders, but that did not prevent him from buying the gun he used on the victims and himself.

It is too early to know what might have made a difference in Black’s case. But as the nation wrestles with how to keep weapons out of the hands of the mentally ill, it is important to determine if the system failed and how.

— The Herald-Dispatch, Huntington

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