Government Can't Track Crazy People Either

Organized record-keeping is beyond the government's abilities.

After the Christmas Day Panty Bomber was subdued by a fellow airplane passenger and taken into custody, it turned out that our government had ample information to put him on the "no fly" list and keep him off the airplane.  Our various intelligence agencies are so jealous and turf-conscious they they didn't share the information.  After the Panty Bomber incident, they shared information so widely that millions of secret documents found their way to Wikileaks.

The "No-Shoot" List Doesn't Work Either

It turns out that our bureaucracy can't handle data effectively even in a vastly smaller, simpler area.  When a loony leftist shot Rep. Giffords, the media first tried to blame conservative Republicans who had targeted her for electoral defeat, then once that non sequitur had been laughed off the air, they resumed talking about keeping guns away from people with mental health problems.

Unfortunately, keeping guns away from people who shouldn't have them appears to be beyond the state of the art, at least as far as government databases are concerned.  Under the headline "States Struggle to Disarm People Who’ve Lost Right to Own Guns", the New York Times reports:

By law, Roy Perez should not have had a gun three years ago when he shot his mother 16 times in their home in Baldwin Park, Calif., killing her, and then went next door and killed a woman and her 4-year-old daughter.

Mr. Perez, who pleaded guilty to three counts of murder and was sentenced last year to life in prison, had a history of mental health issues. As a result, even though in 2004 he legally bought the 9-millimeter Glock 26 handgun he used, at the time of the shootings his name was in a statewide law enforcement database as someone whose gun should be taken away, according to the authorities.  [emphasis added]

The Times noted that California is unique in having an official list of people who shouldn't be able to buy guns or even own them.  It's called the Armed Prohibited Persons System and it had 18,374 names at the beginning of February, 2011.  Mental health professionals and law enforcement agencies add 15-20 names per day.  Perhaps 30% put there for mental health reasons, the others are released felons and other persons who're legally barred from owning guns.

Although the database is supposed to be matched up with state records of who owns guns so that police can take the guns away before something happens, police seldom bother.  The state database isn't connected into the federal database, so people on the state list can be approved for gun purchases when dealers check only the federal system, as the law requires.

The database was set up by a 2002 law and got underway in 2007, which is pretty fast for a government program.  The National Rifle Association (NRA) supported the law, partly because it was billed as a way to keep dangerous people from gunning down law enforcement officials and partly because nobody really wants convicted felons or crazy people owning guns.

The system doesn't work well even with gun advocate support, however.  Accessing the database takes time, and police departments say that they're always stretched for resources.  In addition, sensible police officers have a reasonable reluctance to pursue crazy people who are known to have guns:

It is no small task to conduct the necessary background work and knock on someone’s door, Detective Brown [a supervisor in the Los Angeles Police Department gun unit] said. A case that seems relatively low-risk will usually involve four officers. If it is considered more dangerous, it might take eight. The priority, he said, is on people newly added to the system, because they are more likely to be at the address listed.

Can't Find Out Who's Naughty Or Nice...

We know that the feds can't maintain an accurate no-fly list.  Back in 2004, Sen. Kennedy was questioned five times in one month before being allowed to board; in 2010, the Panty Bomber was waved aboard.  His paying cash for a one-way ticket should have triggered scrutiny even if the TSA hadn't known of his father telling our embassy that his son had recently adopted militant Islam.

Assuming that the California "No-Shoot" list is accurate, which, given past performance is pretty generous, they don't seem to be able to make the system work.  Given the way in which federal efforts to share information worked out and the damage done to Joe the Plumber when state employees leaked his private data, it's probably just as well that most state employees ignore the No Shoot list.

We read of drivers whose licenses have been revoked continuing to drive for years on end; we read of privacy being invaded as unauthorized persons ransack the passport database; government can't keep graves straight at Arlington National Cemetery despite spending millions on computer systems to keep track of corpses which can't move around under their own power; and California can't make the No Shoot list work, despite everyone of every political persuasion being wholeheartedly in favor of it.

All these stories are proof positive that government agencies can't make effective use of data they already collect except to harass political opponents.

Do we really want the feds taking over our medical records as called for in the Obamacare law?

Will Offensicht is a staff writer for and an internationally published author by a different name.  Read other articles by Will Offensicht or other articles on Bureaucracy.
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