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DEAR ABBY: The letter you printed from "Gun-Shy in South Carolina" (March 5), about the antics of her gun-toting, alcoholic father-in-law, caught my attention. I'm a former mental health clinician and program inspector. I discussed that letter with a friend who is a psychiatrist.
"Grandpa" has probably already violated a municipal ordinance regarding discharging a firearm in corporate limits. I agree with you that he has endangered his grandchildren. My friend advised that, according to the local interpretation of mental health statutes, Grandpa might be eligible for involuntary commitment and evaluation in a psychiatric facility. He could be disarmed by the police, if necessary.
"Gun-Shy" should heed her motherly instincts, stay home and refuse to visit Grandpa until he enters treatment. Otherwise there's a high probability that she will mourn the loss of one or more dead children.
Grandpa seems to think that booze and guns make him brave. A brave person is a military medic, a member of the U.S. Coast Guard and the thousands of first responders who demonstrate their bravery by saving human lives, not threatening them. In fact, many Medal of Honor recipients earn the award not by the number of enemies killed, but lives saved.
- Responsible gun owner in Pennsylvania
DEAR RESPONSIBLE: I agree. Some readers felt I should have been tougher in my response, and that Gun-Shy and her children should not visit Grandpa at all. Failure to act on her fears is called child endangerment and could result in the children being taken away. Readers let me have it with both barrels:
DEAR ABBY: Your answer to "Gun-Shy" was off the mark! As a vet and former law enforcement officer, I think the whole family is in "wimp" mode. For adults to watch a drunk adult fire a gun in the air around his family and not call 911 was ignorant and dangerous. ALL states have laws about firing guns in the air (illegal), firing guns while drunk (illegal), unsecured loaded weapons (illegal), and firing guns around children in a home environment (illegal). That jerk should have been arrested!
- Smokey in Florida
DEAR ABBY: Thank you for reminding your readers that when someone shoots a gun into the air, the bullet comes down somewhere. A child near my hometown died last New Year's Eve when she stepped outside with her grandmother to watch the fireworks and a bullet fell to earth and lodged in her brain. The police believe the gun may have been fired from a few miles away.
- Christina in Maryland
DEAR ABBY: Why didn't you suggest a family intervention for the grandfather's alcoholism? The family could be helped by going to Al-Anon to learn how to detach with love from his disease. Alcoholics need to understand how their drinking affects them and others. Possible estrangement from his grandchildren might be a way to break through his denial.
- Steve C. in San Francisco
DEAR ABBY: My friend Michelle died last July Fourth. She was killed because someone fired a gun into the air. She was beautiful, talented and left behind a fiance, a mother, a sister and many friends. She was receiving her Ph.D., was a brilliant researcher for the CDC and had just picked up her wedding gown. She was the victim of a senseless act caused by someone's carelessness.
- Marsha in Michigan
Dear Abby is written by Abigail Van Buren, also known as Jeanne Phillips, and was founded by her mother, Pauline Phillips. Write Dear Abby at www.DearAbby.com or P.O. Box 69440, Los Angeles, CA 90069.