A sheriff’s deputy who told a Reno mother that her mentally ill son had a right to prove that "he can be a responsible gun owner" was wrong, the Carson City sheriff admitted on Tuesday.
When Jill Schaller returned from a vacation she took earlier this month, her 19-year-old son ran out of her home carrying a gun he bought from Reno Police Sgt. Laura Conklin. Conklin sold the gun without a background check because it was a private party sale.
Schaller called 911 on July 7, and Washoe County Deputy John Graves responded. He told her that her son’s purchase was perfectly legal. Graves wrote in his police report that the man deserved a chance to prove to his parents that he is “a responsible gun owner.”
However, the 19 year old was prohibited from possessing a firearm after a judge ruled his mental illness made him unable to care for himself.
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Jill and Richard Schaller’s son has Asperger’s syndrome and was previously hospitalized for making suicidal threats.
"Due to these factors, Jill said she and Richard were granted continuing guardianship over him past the age of 18 by a Nevada court judge," Graves wrote in his report, noting the parents "were both extremely worried about [their son] either harming himself or possibly others as they indicated in the past he has shown signs of being homicidal, but they did not elaborate on those signs."
Carson City Sheriff Ken Furlong admitted that Graves should have recognized that Schaller’s son should not have been allowed to have the gun and should have seized the weapon. Furlong said "bells should have gone off" given what Graves learned from the Schallers and "that should have been his signal" to look into the situation more fully and surmise whether the man was qualified to own a gun.
"[Graves] should have taken the safe route and told the family, 'We're going to hold on to the gun overnight and sort this all out,'" Furlong said.
It was difficult for the Schaller’s to convince their son he could not own a gun.
"It took us like four or five days showing him the statute,” Jill Schaller said. She claims what Graves did only made matters worse.
"That made it more confusing for [our son] because all of them were just saying, 'Sorry, your mom and dad said no,' instead of saying it was illegal," she said.
She believes that if Graves had told the young man that he can't have a gun by law, "he would have listened to them — they were people of authority," she said.
While an investigation into Graves’ action is underway, Sheriff Michael Haley said he cannot comment on the matter. He did say that officers are trained to recognize the types of people who are not qualified to own a gun.
Furlong oversaw law enforcement’s response to a mass shooting by a mentally ill gunman at a Carson City IHOP restaurant in 2011. He said in the Schaller’s case, law enforcement is lucky no one got hurt.
"It just highlights the need for law enforcement and mental health to work more closely together," Furlong said. "Just because a person has a mental illness does not mean he is a bad person. But they do have the probability of having an episode, and if there's a gun involved, it's a recipe for disaster."