Dear Representative so-and-so,
I write to you today because I have serious concerns about the recent expansion of A.R.S. 13-3101 (A)(7)(a), the statute concerning deadly weapons and the mentally ill.
To begin, I remind you that most mentally ill people are not Jared Loughner. Statistically, the mentally ill are no more violent than the general population. To make a felon of a mentally disabled person who has harmed no one, has no plans to harm anyone, and may be doing nothing more nefarious than enjoying a day of plinking in the desert is nothing less than draconian and unconscionable.
In the interest of full disclosure, I must admit to you that I have a personal stake in this matter. I have a family member who has been affected retroactively by this law, even though he owned guns without harming anyone for years under the old statute and was never originally even found to constitute a danger to anyone but himself. When the new statute went into effect, he decided to keep his guns because he lives in a high-crime area and he would rather be caught by the police with his now-illegal guns than be caught by the criminals without them. He was a completely law-abiding citizen until that moment when the legislature turned him into a felon. He used to only fear the criminals in his neighborhood, but now he is also afraid of the police. This is totally counterproductive for both police and peaceable citizens like my family member.
If the state is going to cast its net this wide with regard to the mentally ill in possession of deadly weapons, then violations of A.R.S. 13-3101 (A)(7)(a) should be reclassified as a misdemeanor offense. The law should also be amended so that it does not to apply to persons possessing deadly weapons within a private residence where they have a right to be.
I fully realize that sometimes there's a need for the police to be able to get mentally ill people in possession of deadly weapons off the streets. Amending the law as I have suggested will leave police that tool and will also avert felonizing the non-violent mentally ill. I also realize that the new law provides a mechanism to petition the courts for a restoration of rights--that was very nice of you--but most disabled people (like my family member) can't afford lawyers, you see.
New Mexico, Montana, Wyoming and most other states in the Mountain West are far less harsh on this issue than we now are here in Arizona. It's time that we rejoined them. I hope that you will support ending this felonization of the non-violent mentally ill. Arizona already has the highest likelihood of any state that a severely mentally ill person is in prison rather than in a hospital. We don't need to inflate this shameful statistic even further.
GOA life member
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