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How a Paranoid Schizophrenic Got a Gun -- And Why He Is a Victim, Too

A deeper look at Peter Jourdan's life reveals the complicated interplay between mental illness, criminality and guns.

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“It was the first time he’d been on a plane, and he was terrified,” she said, explaining that Peter, a 6’2’’ grown man, held her hand throughout the entire flight. “He begged me to take a train back.”

Natalie recalled the story just after the family returned from looking at caskets on Saturday afternoon, two days after the shooting. Between press calls and villainous headlines, it had been a difficult few days, and the family took solace in memories of Peter’s normalcy: the time he peed his pants at his uncle’s wedding at nine years old, or when he got out of a prison stint and, sufficiently medicated, requested a feast of pancakes and knishes.

Back on the East Coast after his California adventure, Jourdan moved to Allentown, Pennsylvania, where his mother lived. The family set him up in an apartment, which Jourdan paid for using his disability checks. His sister said she wasn’t fundamentally scared for her brother’s safety. “I was mostly concerned he wouldn’t keep his apartment clean,” Natalie said.

As in the past, he went through good times and bad ones, mainly depending on whether he was taking his medication. Over the last year, he traveled back and forth from New York City to Allentown, almost weekly, sometimes arriving with little more than a plastic bag of things. Natalie took him shopping for winter clothes. Michael made sure his son always had a cell phone, and he kept a cupboard of canned food ready for his visits.

“Whenever he needed me, he came,” explained his father. “He’d call — sometimes he’d come at 4 or 5 in the morning. If it was cold, he’d sleep here. And then in the morning, I would say 'I love you' and hug him, and he would smile before he left.”

The situation wasn’t ideal — but there’s no easy way to care for an adult paranoid-schizophrenic who refuses medication.

And then, sometime in the last few weeks, Peter Jourdan got a gun. He’d recently lost his apartment, and refusing to live at home, often slept on the streets. But when undercover officers in the subway approached him and ordered him off the N train for crossing in between moving cars, Jourdan panicked, drew the weapon and fired at them — and was killed.

According to the NYPD, Jourdan used a 9-millimeter Taurus handgun that, reports say, was registered in the state of Pennsylvania.

“It’s not a hard gun to find,” said Russell Jones, the owner of Jones gun shop in Allentown, Pennsylvania, where Jourdan and his mother lived. Jones explained that a 9-millimeter Taurus is an inexpensive handgun — about $300-$400 new, and $200 used—and readily available in the area.

“Basically, we’re talking a 15-minute to half-hour drive in every direction, and you’ll find about 30 gun shops,” he said. Jones explained that with a clean criminal record, someone could be in and out of one of these gun shops with a 9-millimeter Taurus in under an hour.

“I can tell you this much: If you were buying a rifle, shotgun or handgun you could walk in and look at a display and say, 'I want this gun,' or, 'I want you to order me this gun,' and someone will take it out of the cabinet and hand it to you. You fill out two forms; they make a call in to the state police; and you'll have it within an hour,” he said.

(The 9-millimeter Taurus handgun is made by Forjas Taurus, an international weapons manufacturer based in Brazil. In 2011,  it netted just over $300 million in revenue, making it a small sliver of the more than  $400 billion global arms manufacturing industry, which has been growing despite the recession. On January 3, the day before Jourdan died,  Taurus bought the Florida-based weapons company Diamondback Firearms, which specializes in concealed-carry pistols.)

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