Pastor Rick Warren, Gun Control, and Matthew Warren’s Suicide

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.

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  • GarandFan

    So how does Warren KNOW his son purchased the firearm over the internet? Seems like a neat way for the ATF to make arrests. That serial number can be recovered if not completely defaced. Bet its stolen.

    • Most likely stolen.

      I really don’t get it, however. I’ve joked in the past about how a lot of folks seem to believe that if we just pass enough laws, they’ll magically become self-enforcing.

      Here we’ve got someone who broke – intentionally, I’m going to assume – numerous state and federal laws in his passion to find a weapon to end his life.

      And the answer to that problem is to pass even more laws?

      I’m starting to think the joke isn’t funny. What good is it to have laws that aren’t enforced – and when the existing laws are broken the first response is to pass even more laws?

      Yes, I know that ‘passing a law’ is an easy, cheap, and visible method for a politician to go “See? I’m doing something about the problem!” The trouble is that it doesn’t do a damn thing to really affect the identified problem – passing a law is a vastly different thing than ENFORCING it.

      And we’ve seen how well that’s been working with Federal background checks. 75k denials at the federal levels – 44 prosecutions. Either the system has a REALLY bad false-positive rate, or someone’s just not paying attention.

      But I’m sure if they just pass another law on gun control, everything will be just fine!

      • Conservachef

        Hey, JLawson, you know what they should do?

        Why, they should just outlaw things like theft and murder! Then we can all circle our town halls and hold hands & sing kum-ba-ya and everything will be great.

        Actually I think it goes back to the old saying “when all you have is a hammer, eventually everything starts looking like a nail.” Politicians & legislators main tool is writing laws, so when one isn’t working I think they automatically default to “write a new one!” instead of fixing the old one.

        • Bingo. Add in the fact that they don’t know how to (or aren’t willing to) remove the misapplied laws in the first place, and you end up with one hell of a lot of bent nails and multiple layers of worn and broken shingles on the roof of the law for folks who can’t think of any tool but a hammer…

      • ackwired

        You make a good point. The enforceability should be a prime consideration before passing a law. I’m not sure I understand your other point about relating prosecutions to background check denials. Is it a chargeable offense to fail the background check?

        • It’s not a chargeable offense in itself, but if a felon is caught trying to buy a gun through the background check, that’s illegal and should be prosecuted. But there’s not much effort to do so, it would seem

          From a programming standpoint, if you’ve got 75k hits and only 44 actual events (felons) then you’ve got some pretty crappy code with definitions for the class (felon) that are way too broad and need to be tightened up considerably.

          But then your numbers of ‘denied’ would drop, which would make it look like it’s not working… so there might be a counter-incentive that would ENCOURAGE false positives from a political standpoint.

          If you’re not going to prosecute (and let’s face it, 44 into 75k is about .006%, it’s not QUITE zero, but the odds are pretty darn good if you’re a felon) then just say so, and tout how your background check program kept 75k sales from going through.

          Yeah, enforceability is important. I really don’t understand how it can be ignored so easily – but it seems to be pretty much at the bottom of any list when it comes to making laws.

        • jim_m

          Failing a background check is not illegal but if you fail the test you may have lied on form 4473, which is a felony.

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  • Vagabond661

    Curious. Isn’t it against the law to take your life? Or is that just in some states?

    • jim_m

      Suicide is not illegal in any state, but assisting in a suicide is (although some states do distinguish between physician assisted suicide).

      However, it is considered immoral by virtually every Christian denomination and some will teach that it is an automatic ticket to Hell.

      • Vagabond661

        Assisting in suicide, bad. Assisting in infanticide, good.

  • Commander_Chico

    I was sad when I heard about this. Rick Warren seems like a good guy, not a charlatan. I wish his son pulled through. Mental illness is a real problem among young men it seems.

    I said a prayer to Allah, the Great Spirit, Jupiter, Jesus and the Buddha in their behalf.

    Happy Song Kran, btw!

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  • Teaser38

    “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.”

    This is incorrect. The law only applies to new handguns. Any handgun which is otherwise legal to possess (does not have “evil” features) in the state may be sold as a used firearm, provided the normal background checks and waiting period occurs. There are numerous loopholes regarding the importation of “off-roster” hand guns into the state.

  • Guns are easy enough to get that a preachers kid bent on stopping his pain could find one. You cannot create enough laws to keep someone from killing themselves. If you really want to control guns close the border completely to all traffic unless searched. Secure every inch of the US/ Mexican border and the flow of guns, ammo, and drugs will dry up. Sure passing tougher gun laws will make it harder for legal citizens to make legal purchases, but if you close the border you dry up the black market.

  • americanreal

    this was a professional hit, plain and simple.

  • Banksters_Rule_the_World

    You can’t legislate intent!