Suicidal people may be renting guns to get around federal regulations

October 9, 1996
Web posted at: 10:45 p.m. EDT

From Correspondent Greg Lefevre

STOCKTON, California (CNN) -- For Javier Capuchin, the end came easily; too easily, according to his family. He rented a gun and shot himself.

Although the federal Brady Law makes people wait five days to buy a gun, there is no waiting period to rent a gun from a shooting range. Grieving relatives from Capuchin's family and others complain the laws make suicide rentals a snap.

"It's not right," said his sister, Anna Lopstrom. "Anyone can come. If I have a bad day, I can come in here and rent one."

Since early last year, there have been seven gun range suicides in California, a double suicide in Arizona, and others in Oregon and Oklahoma. In Milpitas, California, police say all six suicides in their area used rented firearms -- two this year were at the same Milpitas range.

Firing range owners say they are victims, too. They say they do check customers, make them read the rules and sign a form. The tip-off: most suicides are new customers who come in alone.

"Being alone and renting a gun are the two things we watch for very carefully"

-- Joe Heskett, owner of TargetMasters

Much of his business comes from beginners learning to shoot, and from people who want to try out different guns before buying one.

"We ask if they had any mental history or trouble with the law. We take their photo. We kind of watch and size them up," he said. "If anybody comes in alone we scrutinize them very carefully... I have spotted one or two that way. I have turned one or two away."

Heskett said he asked police to intervene with one would-be gun renter. He believes he saved the person's life.

Half of all handgun deaths in the United States are suicides. With no waiting period to rent a gun, trauma experts worry that a person too unstable to buy one may rent instead.

Shooting ranges shouldn't rent firearms at all, said Eric Gorovitz of the Trauma Foundation at San Francisco General Hospital.

"It may be there's a reason that those people can't purchase guns ... because they would have a mental health history that would come out in the background check," Gorovitz said.

Although many gun control detractors claim that a suicidal person will find a way, no matter what the law says, some legislators are discussing waiting periods on gun rentals. They say true gun enthusiasts won't mind the inconvenience, and those considering suicide may reconsider.

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