Gun rental background check bill introduced after back-to-back suicides at Hanover shooting range

Updated: Jan. 22, 2021 at 5:59 PM EST
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RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) - After two men rented guns at a Hanover shooting range and took their lives on-site within the same week, their families began a mission to stop that from happening again.

Both Jon-Christian Carroll, 21, and Arron Prude, 27, battled mental health issues. Each had been involuntarily committed to multiple hospitals in the past. Now, new legislation requiring background checks for gun rentals in Virginia has been introduced.

The families of Arron Prude and Jon-Christian Carroll were changed forever last July, experiencing a pain only known to those who’ve lost a child to suicide.

‘Jon Jon’ Carroll was honorably discharged from the United States Marine Corps after he started showing signs of mental health issues last year. Even though he was involuntarily hospitalized twice, Jon Jon was able to sign a waiver at Green Top Shooting Range, falsely attesting he wasn’t mentally unstable or a felon. He was handed a rifle and moments later took his life.

“You can rent a weapon, get the ammo from the facility, walk out into a bay, start shooting and either turn (the gun) on yourself or turn it on others,” said Brad Carroll, Jon Jon’s father and a Marine himself. “There’s nothing stopping you from doing that. "

Five days later, Arron Prude would not be stopped either.

“I’m maintaining my life, but I’m not living,” said Karen Williams, Arron’s mother.

Arron was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia when he was 17 years old. He took medicine and underwent counseling for more than a decade, ultimately holding a job and getting his driver’s license.

Arron also was able to rent a firearm and turn it on himself at Green Top Shooting Range.

No background checks were conducted, and no laws were broken by the shooting range. Background checks are only required for purchasing a gun per federal law.

“I’m mad because there was no one to step in the gap,” said Williams. “I’m hurting every day. I feel empty.”

It’s the same emptiness Virginia Senator Creigh Deeds lives with every day. In 2013, his 24-year-old son, who was increasingly plagued by bipolar disorder, attacked Deeds with a knife and then committed suicide outside the family’s home.

“Everybody in their life experiences loss,” said Deeds. “It impacts everything you do… When these families reached out to me, their grief was palpable.”

Deeds believes that this kind of grief is something that could be prevented for other families. He introduced Virginia Senate Bill 1250 to change the law to include legally required background checks for gun rentals.

However, the bill states that under current federal law, a firearm rental is not considered to be a “purchase.” That means gun rental background checks in Virginia would not be able to use the same federal database (National Instant Criminal Background Check) as is used in a sale. But, Senate Bill 1250 would allow State Police to conduct a Virginia state criminal history record information check, using in-state databases, instead.

“We’ve already decided that there’s certain people who can’t obtain firearms. I don’t have a problem figuring out whether the people trying to obtain firearms are those folks,” he said.

Those people also include felons, as well as those on the brink of taking their lives, a process that can happen perhaps be done most quickly with a firearm.

“Research suggests that people who intend on taking their lives, usually make a plan to do that. And anything you could put in the way of completing that plan, any sort of interference, could be what saves their lives,” said Deeds.

The National Shooting Sports Foundation, which advocates for the firearm industry, maintains many gun ranges already take voluntary measures to prevent suicides. Some ranges only rent to customers who already have a concealed carry permit or proof of firearm safety training. Other ranges will not rent to customers who come in alone. The NSSF also says that since some background information from other states would be excluded from the check, the effort would be less effective, anyway. The organization actively partners with suicide prevention groups and runs its own programs to help curb suicide with firearms, including at gun ranges.

The well-known gun rights group Virginia Citizens Defense League also counters that the time it takes to do a background check is unpredictable, and could take days instead of minutes in some cases - which could hurt small businesses.

“If someone is intent on harming themselves, I don’t have a problem with it taking some time,” said Deeds. “Your grief is something that never goes away.”

Virginia Senate Bill 1250 is set to be taken up by the General Assembly in its first legislative hearing on Monday.

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