Earlier this month a Grand Forks woman was found dead in her home with her three children. A law enforcement investigation later revealed that the woman, Astra Volk, had killed her children and then herself.
Now we learn that Volk purchased the gun used to kill herself and her children from a pawn shop the day before.
It was a legal transaction. “The purchase of the handgun was conducted ‘legally and to standard,'” April Baumgarten reports, quoting Grand Forks Police Lt. Derik Zimmel.
Now some are wondering if this is an example of the need for tighter gun control. This from a SayAnythingBlog.com reader on Twitter:
She attempted suicide earlier this year. Had been seeing doctors for mental illnesses she had, and was able to legally purchase a hand gun. @robport where’s the article on this?
— Huso (@HusoJusic) May 24, 2018
In the wake of crimes like this committed with guns we often hear, even from gun rights supporters, the argument that we ought to do more to deny gun rights to those with mental health issues. But while that might be a good political talking point, it does injustice to what is a truly complicated question.
Based on reports, we know that there were some outward indicators that Volk was having problems. She had attempted suicide earlier this year. In 2014 law enforcement had occasion to speak with her after her ex-husband that she was sending him text messages in which she said she was planning to commit suicide. She was taken to Altru hospital in Grand Forks at that time for treatment. Shortly before her act of suicide/filicide she “posted on the website GoFundMe and asked for financial help to cover living expenses while paying off medical expenses related to mental illness,” Baumgarten reports.
Yet she was still able to purchase a gun. Because denying someone their gun rights requires due process. The same due process which is required if the state is to, say, take a person’s children away from them.
More on that point in a moment.
We should acknowledge that denying someone like Volk access to a gun does not mean we can prevent them from doing something to hurt themselves or others. Volk chose to inflict harm with a firearm. Should could just have easily chosen an automobile, as Susan Smith did in 1994. Or poison, as Therese Roever did earlier this year.
The issue at hand is not Volk’s method but rather her motivation. Which brings me back to the question of the state’s responsibility to protect children.
Because of the politics around gun control a lot of people will (and already are) demand to know why Volk could still buy a gun despite clear indications that she was having mental health problems. But if Volk wasn’t in a mental state to own a gun, was she in a mental state to be in charge of three children? If the case for denying her gun rights was so clear, why wasn’t anything done to remove the children from her care?
A gun is just a tool which can be used to hurt people the same way poison or a car or a blunt instrument can be.
The problem isn’t that Volk was able to buy a gun. The problem was that Volk needed help and neither she nor her children got it.