How do I best look after a friend who purchased a gun?
February 29, 2008 4:48 PM   Subscribe

A close friend has purchased a gun and I'm worried.

My friend has purchased his first handgun and is currently under the state mandated waiting period. I have a couple concerns; he is not the most stable person I know. He is on, by his own admittance, a high number of medications for pain and arthritic conditions. He smokes marijuana daily.

He sees/ hears ghosts in his house that his roommates do not.

Some of our other friends have suggested he is depressed; he hasn't had much luck with the opposite sex in a long time (years), despite being very popular in high school and college. He's gained a good deal of weight and has admitted to having self-confidence issues.

What responsibility do I have to both my friend, and myself?
posted by vaportrail to Human Relations (25 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
> He sees/ hears ghosts in his house that his roommates do not

How the crap can somebody in that condition buy a gun? That's beside the point, I guess.

You need to tell your friend he's not mentally fit to own the gun. Be honest with him. If he doesn't get rid of it, get rid of him. And warn his roommates. You should also probably tell the police that you don't think he's fit to own it either.

It sounds like it could end in tears and if I were in your shoes, I'd want to be as far away from him and that gun when the shit goes down.
posted by ReiToei at 5:00 PM on February 29, 2008

Has anyone asked him why he is buying a gun? That might give you more of an idea of how to approach the situation.
posted by 45moore45 at 5:01 PM on February 29, 2008

I don't know how it is that you came to find out that your friend had purchased a gun, but that makes a big difference in the way that I think you should approach the situation.

Did he tell you that he had purchased a gun? If so, then it's a subject that he's probably willing to discuss further. Ask him why he decided to buy a gun (and give him a fair chance of explaining; don't make the question an accusation). He might have an explanation that doesn't require any alarm. For example, going to the firing range is a fun activity that doesn't require a great deal of physical exertion. You'd mentioned that he's put on a good deal of weight, maybe he wants to go out and have fun, but finds that he can't run around the way he did in the past.

You've mentioned that he has roommates. Have them keep an eye on him. They don't have to snoop or anything, they just need to be alert and receptive. Remind them that it's to their benefit to watch for signs of trouble; one of my friends had a roommate who pulled a gun on him for the purposes of a planned murder-suicide. He was lucky to escape alive, and the roommate killed himself a couple of months later. Obviously, nobody wants the situation to head in that direction.

It's good that you're concerned, but remember to give your friend the opportunity to talk to you about his motives. If he told you that he's purchased a gun, it might be his way of sending you a signal that he wants to discuss some serious issues with you. Or it might just be that he's got a new toy and is excited about talking to his friends about it.
posted by Parasite Unseen at 5:04 PM on February 29, 2008

You need to tell your friend he's not mentally fit to own the gun.

I suggest you do this BEFORE the waiting period is up and he, y'know, has a gun.

I am not joking.
posted by dersins at 5:05 PM on February 29, 2008

Just ask him not to bring the gun to your house and then don't go to his.
posted by hjo3 at 5:09 PM on February 29, 2008

The federal form you have to fill out when buying a gun asks several questions. Several relate to mental health, but if he has not seen a professional, he might be able to get past it. But one question asks if you are a "habitual user" of any illegal drugs. If what you're saying is true, then he has committed a serious crime already. Knowing about it and doing nothing may make you liable somehow, maybe, but the larger issue is one of safety.

I think you should call the police, if only from a pay phone, and tell them what you know. Would you be able to forgive yourself otherwise?
posted by amfea at 5:16 PM on February 29, 2008

It would actually be the NCIS (National Instant Criminal Background Check System) portion of the FBI that you want to contact for further information on how to proceed. They are the ones reviewing his background. They ultimately decide whether or not he gets a gun.

I was looking around their site to see if there is an outlined way of handling this information, but most documents are PDF and I am currently installing Adobe Creative Suite, thus cannot open PDFs right now. I would check around at this site and see if you can find contact information or a policy already in place.

BTW... Below is the regulation that should, but probably won't, keep him from buying a gun.

(3) Is an unlawful user of or addicted to any controlled substance;
Controlled substance. A drug or other substance, or immediate
precursor, as defined in section 102 of the Controlled Substances
Act, 21 U.S.C. 802. The term includes, but is not limited to,
marijuana, depressants, stimulants, and narcotic drugs. The term
does not include distilled spirits, wine, malt beverages, or
tobacco, as those terms are defined or used in Subtitle E of the
Internal Revenue Code of 1986, as amended.
Unlawful user of or addicted to any controlled substance. A
person who uses a controlled substance and has lost the power of
self-control with reference to the use of the controlled substance;
and any person who is a current user of a controlled substance in a
manner other than as prescribed by a licensed physician. Such use is
not limited to the use of drugs on a particular day, or within a
matter of days or weeks before, but rather that the unlawful use has
occurred recently enough to indicate that the individual is actively
engaged in such conduct. A person may be an unlawful current user of
a controlled substance even though the substance is not being used
at the precise time the person seeks to acquire a firearm or
receives or possesses a firearm. An inference of current use may be
drawn from evidence of a recent use or possession of a controlled
substance or a pattern of use or possession that reasonably covers
the present time, e.g., a conviction for use or possession of a
controlled substance within the past year, or multiple arrests for
such offenses within the past five years if the most recent arrest
occurred within the past year.

The DOJ Office of Policy Development inquired whether the proposed
definition includes persons found through a drug test to use a
controlled substance unlawfully, provided the test was administered
within the past year. In response, ATF agrees that this information
would give rise to an inference of unlawful drug use. Accordingly, the
final regulations are being amended to identify these persons in the
definition as an example of unlawful drug user.
DOD commented that the examples should be expanded to include
illegal drug use as evidenced by nonjudicial or administrative
proceedings. DOD believes that it would be helpful to add the following
at the end of the proposed definition:

For a current or former member of the Armed Forces, an inference
of current use may be drawn from recent disciplinary or other
administrative action based on confirmed drug use, e.g., court-
martial conviction, nonjudicial punishment, or an administrative
discharge based on drug use or drug rehabilitation failure.

ATF finds that the Defense Department's proposed language helps to
clarify the definition with respect to the military and is adopting the
proposed amendment into the final regulations.
posted by B(oYo)BIES at 5:45 PM on February 29, 2008 [1 favorite]

A few years ago, a friend of mine with a history of depression and no interest in guns whatsoever showed up at a board game night with his new AK-47.

He started showing it off, and I got the unique experience of looking down the barrel as he swung it towards me. Fortunately it wasn't loaded, but I had no way of knowing that beforehand.

We planned out an intervention. We started the next game night as normal, and then in the middle of things we started talking about gun ownership. Fortunately another member of the crew was a long-time safety-conscious gun-owner, and he brought up a lot of good points about how to begin learning about guns safely.

What ended up convincing the guy to give up the gun was the idea that his sudden purchase of an AK-47 would make his upcoming custody issues with his daughter much more complex.

The next day, the responsible gun owner went with the AK-47 owner down to the gun store, and helped him return the gun.

He said it was one of the scariest hours of his life.

I don't know whether an intervention would be appropriate in your situation or not, but it's a good thing there's someone looking out for him. Be careful. Good luck.
posted by MrVisible at 6:23 PM on February 29, 2008 [1 favorite]

Best answer: What responsibility do I have to both my friend, and myself?

You should have a discussion with him about what he intends to do with the gun. Tell him precisely what you are worried about happening.

Then ... it depends. Plenty of people own firearms for sport practice, or just because they've always wanted one.

If he's using it for sport, you might suggest to him that he take the same path I did: keep the gun in the house but don't keep any bullets. I kept it locked away on a high shelf, but the extra step of not having ammunition around helped placate some of my more worrywart friends who weren't going to allow their children to enter a house that had a gun in it. I just bought my ammo at the range and used it there.

If he wants it for home defense, then you'll need to think long and hard about how much you trust him to secure and wisely use the weapon.

If he's planning on killing himself with it -- well, you've asked him what he wants it for and if he doesn't want to share that plan with you then you've done what you can.

I had a friend who killed himself with a .45 -- we had discussed the topic on and off for years so it wasn't a particular surprise -- and I don't have any illusions that I could have stopped him by trying to limit his access to a gun.
posted by tkolar at 6:31 PM on February 29, 2008 [1 favorite]

If you're his friend you probably have the ability and the right to ask him why he's buying a gun. And you shouldn't do it alone - get the roommates involved. But, at the end of the day, it's his right to buy a gun (I'm a Canadian, by the way, and think gun ownership rules here - Canada - are STILL too lax). While you might get lucky and get some some help from the gun shop owner or the FBI or whatever, you might also be perceived as a meddlesome do-gooder.

So, get you and the roommates together, and establish some ground rules for this gun. I would imagine the roommates are probably going to move out real soon anyway.

Just remember that, at the end of the day your friend is responsible for his own actions. And if it seems like he's likely to pull a Columbine, it's your responsibility to let someone know. But, like I said, your friend is exercising his rights, and law enforcement will protect his right to do so.
posted by KokuRyu at 6:40 PM on February 29, 2008

Slightly off your main query, but about the ghosts -- does the house have gas or wood heat? Seeing/hearing "ghosts" is a symptom of carbon monoxide poisoning (leaky old furnaces are the culprit behind many "haunted houses"). Depression, lethargy, and mental instability are other carbon monoxide poisoning symptoms. Maybe you should get your friend a carbon monoxide detector. Good ones usually cost about $50 and you can find them where smoke detectors are sold.
posted by Jacqueline at 8:21 PM on February 29, 2008 [1 favorite]

From what you said it is clear that your friend lied at least once on his form 4473, in that it asks you if you are an unlawful user of marijuana. I'm assuming that your friend doesn't have a prescription. Given the fact that in and of itself lying on this document is a felony you are in a particularly tricky ethical position. One the one hand there is public safety to consider, on the flip side there is the fact that your friend would be a felon after you reported him. Given the fact that your friend has admitted to having hallucinations I would at the very least inform his roommates of the situation and their potential avenues of action, since they would be most directly affected. Outside of that you might want to consider confronting your friend with the facts, letting him know that you may have to consider reporting his crime because you are concerned for the well being of himself and those around him.
posted by frieze at 8:54 PM on February 29, 2008

Too many people around here are obnoxiously afraid of guns in any context.

If the guy is truly not mentally stable then you should talk to him about it and take other appropriate actions if you are not still not satisfied. By all means a crazy guy should not be armed. But you have not explained why you think the guy might not be mentally stable. Is your justification really that he is fat, doesn't get laid, depressed, and smokes pot? That does not qualify as too loony to enjoy recreational shooting sports in my book.

Talk to him first.
posted by Slenny at 9:59 PM on February 29, 2008

Is your justification really that he is fat, doesn't get laid, depressed, and

Put those things together, and I wonder if his motivation for the gun might be so that he can feel a bit more of a badass about himself - a seemingly easy ticket to a little bit more self-respect. If this rings true, you might be able to use that badass-motivation (desire for self-respect) for Good - surreptitiously use some Jason Bourne movies to lure him into joining krav maga classes instead of getting the gun (perhaps the two of you starting them together). If you can pull that off, the exercise could help reduce the depression, then the two of those could cascade to reduce the weight, then the three of those could cascade to increase the getting-laid, then the girlfriend could take it upon herself to get rid of the pot, and before you know it, cancer is cured, world peace is declared, and death found to be reversable (thus allowing him to have his gun back :-).

Ok, it probably won't work out like that, but it's another angle to consider, which is part of what askmefi is for :-)
posted by -harlequin- at 10:59 PM on February 29, 2008

Assuming he's not bat-sh!t insane, I would still suggest to him that he take a few different safety-proficiency courses at the local range. He should be made to learn the four basic rules of gun safety, and should be told in no uncertain terms that he's entered into a serious responsibility, akin to having a child. (Having done both, I can tell you it's not as inappropriate a comparison as you'd think.) It's a lifestyle change that demands strict adherence to and knowledge of the law, many hard-and-fast commandments that are even more important than the ten that Moses brought down from the mountain, and a social stigma from people who don't "get it".

When you speak to him, don't come at him from the angle of "why'd you buy a GUN?" Ask him more along the lines of "so what made you decide to buy a gun, huh?" Avoid the judgmental tone. Be cool about it so he knows (or thinks) you're not attacking his decision. Then, based on his answers, figure out what the situation is.

If he doesn't know them, and if you don't, here are the four holy commandments of gun safety. See that he obeys them all.

1) Treat every gun as though it were loaded.

2) Never point the weapon at anything you do not wish to destroy.

3) Keep your finger OFF the trigger until your sights are on the target.

4) Always be sure of what you are shooting at and what is around and behind it.

Do NOT let him violate these rules. ANY of them. ALL the time. NO MATTER WHAT. If any of you wish to hand the weapon back and forth, you must first open the action and show the other person that the weapon is empty, and hand it over with the action open. ALWAYS.

This doesn't help with the whole is-he-crazy part, but it will go a long way towards making the whole thing safer if he isn't.
posted by Doctor Suarez at 11:16 PM on February 29, 2008 [4 favorites]

Slightly twisting what harlequin said, sometimes owning a gun can actually help bring about a more focused, mature mindset in an individual. You have to grow up to be a gun owner.

The danger, however, would be if he doesn't man up to the challenge.
posted by Doctor Suarez at 11:17 PM on February 29, 2008

He sees/ hears ghosts in his house that his roommates do not.

Does your area have an adult protective services department? Someone who's actively hallucinating probably shouldn't be in possession of a handgun; they're likely to use it to kill themselvs. APS serves to protect people who are adults but not fully competent to govern their own affairs; it sounds like this is a case where they might be usefully involved.
posted by ikkyu2 at 11:22 PM on February 29, 2008

Best answer: Assuming he gets the gun first though, brush up on gun safety yourself if you're not already very familiar with it. This is because he might want to show you his new gun, and you might have to make it crystal clear that you expect him to be nothing less than the very model of a responsible gun owner. To do this, you'll need to know as much or more about gun handling and gun safety, as him, and you'll need to be inflexible.
(You can also pry a little to cross check his motivations - if he's buying it to plink cans in the desert, does he store the ammo and clips separately from the gun? If not, why not? Does he have friends that are sometimes addled on things more dangerous than pot? Ie there are probably concerns you can give him and expect him to act on, which don't attack him directly.)

It might also pay to spend an afternoon at the kind of shooting range where you can hire some guns, and have a guy go over some of the common handling errors with you. Knowing how close to the rails your friend's behaviour is with the weapon, and being able to stand in authoritatively as a rail yourself, could be something concrete you can do for the situation.
posted by -harlequin- at 11:23 PM on February 29, 2008

Wow. It is a gun. Not a big deal.

Unless he is practicing poor gun safety in your immediate vicinity, there is no problem.

Interfering in this is a terrible idea.

Talk to him, leave the gun out of it. Be a friend, not Big Brother.

I would be livid if anybody tried to sit me down and have a responsibility talk with me about owning a gun.
posted by clearly at 3:36 AM on March 1, 2008

Best answer: I had a friend who did almost the exact same thing. His body laid undiscovered in the back hallway for three days before a roommate discovered it.

All it takes is one Dark Impulse and he'll be gone.

So if I had to do it all over again, I would have talk more to my friend. Not about the gun, but about life in general. I would make it clear that any time he wanted to talk, I'd be there for him. The subject of the gun could come up, as would my concerns about suicide, but then again, all the gun is, really, is an easy method. If someone really wants to kill themselves, there's a host of ways to do it. So I'd want to make sure my friend knows that he has a friend in me and that I hope that we have many years of friendship together. You can't be pushy about this, but you do have to make sure your friend knows that you care for him and want to be there for him.

Maybe that way, when the Impulse strikes he'll reach for the phone rather than the gun/pills/rope/whatever.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 5:12 AM on March 1, 2008

Best answer: This might be not at all relevant, but just want to throw this into the mix because there is some talk about your friend's mental health. As someone who has worked as a therapist in more than one psychiatric ward, I hear a few things in this story that indicate that a serious mental health problem *may be* at work: often, young people who experience their first psychotic break as a young adult (early 20s) have performed fine at high school/college (where they were often social, high functioning young adults); struggle with depression (from many factors, including functioning below their anticipated level and coming to terms with a major mental illness); gain weight (if they are in treatment and on antipsychotics); use drugs (to self-medicate, marijuana in particular is sometimes helpful in dealing with the effects of schizophrenia); and (of course) experience auditory or visual hallucinations. Again, this may not at all be the issue, I mention it only because I have talked to many family members and friends of young people beginning to display signs of psychotic breakdown and many times people deny it because they simply believe it can't happen.

That said, I also do not at all mean to suggest that just because someone is mentally ill, they are more dangerous than the average person - that is patently untrue. However, if you think your friend is actually out of touch with reality, I would be concerned about his purchase of a gun.

Does he have a therapist or psychiatrist? Would he allow you to contact that person to tell him/her of your concern? You might also ask him if the ghosts ever tell him to do anything. This sounds super-dramatic I know, but if he is hearing commands to buy a gun and hurt someone or himself, he might be relieved to hear someone asking about it outright, and it may help him to share what's going on.
posted by dreamphone at 5:56 AM on March 1, 2008

Believing in ghosts equals mental instability?

I find that kind of ridiculous, personally. Some souls are more enlightened on the subject than others...
posted by nonmerci at 10:30 AM on March 1, 2008

Believing in ghosts equals mental instability?

Seeing ghosts when others do not is as often a sign of mental instability as it is a sign of psychic awareness.
posted by tkolar at 10:40 AM on March 1, 2008

I dunno - all this suicide talk sounds more than a little patronizing to me... not that it should be taken lightly, but, where I live, there's a gun in almost every household. If one of my friends didn't know how to shoot a gun, they'd be in a significant minority. Lots and lots of people have guns (about 35% of all households in the U.S.) so I wouldn't over-react. Also, lots of people are overweight, depressed and smoke pot every day while at the same time being perfectly responsible gun-owners.

That being said, I would encourage EVERYONE to take a firearms safety class of some kind (especially if you live in the U.S.) This goes for absolutely everyone - though you may be appalled by guns and (as I am) and desire to see a world disarmed, it is quite likely (especially if you live in the U.S.) that you will encounter a gun at some point in your life.

So, I guess I'm seconding everyone else who says visit a range and try to engage your friend in it in a friendly kind of way. After all, for some people guns are very interesting and can be a worthwhile hobby. All the men (and a few women) in my family shoot guns. I learned to shoot from an early age. But seeing as we live in a very heavily armed society, I think everyone should learn the basics of firearm safety.
posted by Baby_Balrog at 2:30 PM on March 1, 2008

Frankly, if you are worried that your friend might harm himself or someone else, his not having a gun won't make everything magically OK. I can't tell if you are asking this question because you are concerned for your friend's general well being, or because you consider gun ownership to be a problem in and of itself. I know plenty of mentally stable people who "see" ghosts.

If is a danger to himself or others, that's the problem, and it will still be a problem if he doesn't own a gun.

I know plenty of people who own guns as well as being on pain medication, smoking marijuana, don't have good luck dating, and are overweight. I'm not especially worried about any of them. I have idea if the person I know who swears that his house is haunted owns a gun or not.

If you are OK with your friend being around common potentially harmful things like kitchen knives, baseball bats, hammers, cars, rope, etc, you don't to suddenly fear them because they have a gun. He should learn about gun safety, possibly by taking a course from the NRA. The roommates should learn basic gun safety also. He should make sure the roommates will be OK with this, just as one should discuss with their roommates if they want to get a pet or have their SO move in.
posted by yohko at 3:58 PM on March 3, 2008

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