Pastor Rick Warren and his family suffered a devastating loss last week when their son, Matthew, took his own life with a pistol that he may have bought illegally from a person he contacted over the Internet. Dealing with such a loss is heartrending, of course, and the Warren family has much to endure as they deal with this terrible incident. But one thing is sure, new gun laws would not have prevented Matthew Warren’s suicide.
Warren’s son, Matthew Warren, committed suicide on April 5 with a self-inflicted gunshot. After news broke, the young man’s father reported that Matthew had been under a doctor’s care for years and had been suicidal for some time. Sadly, his doctors weren’t able to save the young man from his fatal choice.
Rick Warren said, Matthew “suffered from mental illness resulting in deep depression and suicidal thoughts. Despite the best health care available, this was an illness that was never fully controlled and the emotional pain resulted in his decision to take his life.”
In the days since, Warren has Tweeted several times about his son’s death and in a Tweet on Friday afternoon, the Pastor of the Saddleback Valley Community Church mentioned that his son had bought his gun illegally from someone over the Internet.
Police have not confirmed this fact as of yet, but if this really is how Matthew obtained his gun, it was done so in contravention to state laws.
When transferring a gun from one non-family member to another in California, all sales must be handled by a federal firearms license holder–like a gun shop owner–and a background check must also be performed on the buyer. There are no exceptions to this provision in California.
One thing police have confirmed, and that is that the pistol had its serial numbers scratched off. This is also a violation of federal law.
Who ever sold this gun to Matthew Warren did so breaking quite a few laws that are already on the books so new laws would not have stopped this illicit sale.
The younger Warren’s actions were also illegal. He clearly went out of his way to find an illegal gun. Matthew himself broke a law when he took possession of the gun. In California a buyer is supposed to register his gun with the state if it hadn’t been done already with the background check and FFL transfer paperwork.
Additionally, depending on what model gun it was, Matthew may also have broken another state law. In California, only state-approved handgun models are allowed to be sold to anyone. A list of those state-approved pistols appears on the California Department of Justice website.
Naturally, there is much culpability for a person that takes possession of a firearm, as well. Violating gun transfer laws is the least of it, but criminal intent to do harm to oneself or another person is an action whose consequences belong to the perpetrator, not just the person that sold the tool misused in the deed.
In December, after the crime at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, Pastor Warren went on Fox News and said that there is a mental health issue in America. True enough. But he also said, “There is the civil safety issue, which is gun control and these assault weapons–hey don’t call them ‘assault weapons’ for nothing.”
Rick Warren’s son did not use an “assault weapon” to take his own life. In point of fact, relatively few people misuse “assault weapons” or rifles and long arms in America. The number is as low as 2.6 percent of all incidents.
Since Matthew Warren and the gun seller both broke multiple laws–both state and federal–that are already on the books in transferring the gun from one to the other, no new laws, no more background checks, no more restrictions or higher fees would have prevented the pair from breaking the law.
We all wish the Warren family well in this time of grief and we grieve with them. The loss of a child for any reason is always the worst thing for a parent to endure.