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Anchorage, Alaska, state District Court Judge Natalie Finn took away Timothy Wagner’s gun permit after he claimed someone had implanted a computer chip in his head and injected him with deadly chemicals. A state appeals court, though, ruled that Finn erred, saying Alaska’s concealed-carry law does not allow general concerns about mental illness to play a role in deciding whether someone should have a gun. Gun control advocates say the episode illustrates a dangerous accommodation to the gun lobby by Alaska’s Legislature. Gun owners, however, argue that Alaska’s law safeguards their Second Amendment rights and that the public is adequately protected. The Department of Public Safety has issued more than 18,000 such permits since 1995, when Alaskans were allowed to carry concealed handguns under restrictions that include an age limit and a gun-safety course. In 1998, the law was amended so that applicants did not have to prove they actually needed to carry a concealed weapon. Also, whether someone was mentally ill or had been treated for mental illness in the preceding five years was taken off the list of questions applicants were asked — a change cited by the appeals court last year in Wagner’s case. The Alaska law requires applicants to disclose only whether they have ever been committed to a mental hospital or found mentally incompetent by a court. “Yes” answers are grounds for denying a permit. “We wanted to remove the potential for arbitrary and capricious decision making on the part of the issuing agency,” said Brian Judy, Alaska liaison for the National Rifle Association. But Nancy Hwa, spokeswoman for the Washington, D.C.-based Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, complained: “They are taking away the discretion of local law enforcement to make these decisions in the best interest of public safety.” Other gun-friendly states, including Texas, Montana and North Carolina, have much stricter standards when it comes to mental instability and concealed-carry permits, said Luis Tolley, the Brady Campaign’s state legislative director. In Montana, the law says a sheriff can deny a permit if there is reasonable cause to believe “the applicant is mentally ill, mentally defective or mentally disabled.” North Carolina applicants with a “physical or mental infirmity that prevent the safe handling of a handgun” can be denied a permit. Even Texas has a long, broad list under mental health, Tolley said. The restrictions include anyone that has been diagnosed with “a psychiatric disorder or condition” that is likely to cause impairment in judgment, mood, perception or intellectual ability. “Alaska seems more likely than many states to allow mentally ill people to carry guns in public,” Tolley said. “By establishing such a narrow definition, that is allowing an awful lot of people who are mentally ill to carry guns in public.” Wagner’s case began in 1998, when he entered the Alaska Mining and Diving store in Anchorage, dripping wet, and told a clerk he was trying to soak away chemicals in his body before they killed him. He also said a computer chip had been implanted in his head. Another employee overheard the conversation and called police. A background check revealed he had a permit to carry a concealed gun. When an officer asked Wagner if he had a gun with him, Wagner pointed to a briefcase next to him. In it was a loaded .357 and several bags of bullets. Alaska law requires permit holders who come in contact with police to tell officers immediately if they are carrying a concealed gun. Wagner was convicted of failing to do so. Finn sentenced Wagner to three years’ probation and ordered him not to possess guns during that period. She also ordered him to forfeit his concealed-gun permit until his mental illness was “either cured or improved.” The Department of Public Safety later revoked Wagner’s permit based on Finn’s decision. Efforts to reach Wagner were unsuccessful. He has no telephone listing in Anchorage. He told the court he was an “inventor” and designed guns and ammunition. The public defender’s office said it had not recently heard from him. Wagner had no prior convictions, according to court documents. After his arrest, police took him to a state mental hospital. Wagner testified that he was released after being interviewed. The amended law was enacted over the veto of Gov. Tony Knowles, who warned at the time that the measure could allow dangerous people to carry concealed weapons. The Department of Public Safety has taken a wait-and-see attitude in Wagner’s case. He has not again asked for his permit back and no court has ordered it returned, said Del Smith, deputy commissioner. “I think Finn was concerned about his behavior, and rightly so,” Smith said. “He made some pretty bizarre claims.” Copyright 2002 Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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