As the Colorado legislature continues to debate gun-control proposals (and Republicans attempt to counter by attacking a Democratic rep for his comments about rape), we're hearing about a mom's decision to turn in Richard Lancaster, her mentally ill son, who allegedly managed to collect an arsenal of weapons online. And while the story is being presented in sensationalized fashion, the questions it raises are key to the ongoing discussion.
The report comes to us from 9News correspondent Jeremy Jojola, who cites a search warrant for the Highlands Ranch home where Lancaster, 26, lives with his mother. The document notes that investigators searching Lancaster's room found "boxes of ammunition, hand guns, sniper suits, gun building parts, tactical clothing, rifles and a 'welded AK-47 long gun.'"
Apparently, most if not all of this material was obtained online despite Lancaster's long history of mental-health challenges, including treatment at the state facility in Pueblo and other hospitals, plus a diagnosis of schizophrenia that has at times led to violence -- a rare occurrence for individuals with his condition, 9News acknowledges.
Examples: The search warrant says Lancaster pointed a homemade spear at his mom's chest at one point and threatened to "kill people if they tried to take him to the mental hospital again."
Lancaster's mom didn't agree to an interview, so Jojola compensates by chatting with an expert who describes her son as a potential "time bomb" that could have gone off at any time, as well as another mom with a mentally ill son who she says she has had difficulty helping him because he, like Lancaster, is an adult, with the right under Colorado law to refuse treatment.
The 9News piece supplements this information in tabloid-TV fashion. Featured are images of the response to the Aurora theater shooting this past July, in addition to photos of accused killer James Holmes and others associated with mass shootings. Among them: Adam Lanza, responsible for the slayings in Newtown, Connecticut, Columbine killers Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, and Jared Loughner, whose attack at an Arizona grocery store critically wounded Congresswoman Gabby Giffords and killed several others.
And that's not to mention shots of weaponry, including quick cuts of bullet photos accompanied by gunfire.
Grabby stuff, sure. But so explicitly likening Lancaster to Holmes and company suggests that his mother was right to be cautious about cooperating. After all, Lancaster has no felony convictions on his record (that's why he could legally obtain so much firepower) and hasn't been convicted of anything yet (charges against him include menacing and attempting to possess a dangerous weapon).
Granted, authorities are right to take the case seriously -- a point of view exemplified by the $500,000 bond that's kept Lancaster in custody since August. And his story certainly needs to be told. He seems like exactly the kind of a person most people think shouldn't be allowed to possess piles of lethal killing devices. Yet under current Colorado law, he was perfectly within his rights to buy lots and lots of these items -- and a legal system that relies on parents to blow the whistle on potentially dangerous adult offspring can hardly be considered foolproof.
Here's the 9News report.
More from our Media archive: "Jared Loughner's attack on Gabrielle Giffords stirs Brit press to cite Columbine & Colorado."
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