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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’s unclear how Jourdan — who has a handful of felonies on his criminal record — ended up with this handgun, and whether he purchased it legally. Both the criminal convictions and his history of mental illness should have made it impossible for him to buy a gun legally;  federal law prohibits people who have been involuntarily committed to mental institutions from purchasing a gun.  Pennsylvania, however, is one of 19 states that has added fewer than 100 mental health records to the FBI database in nearly 20 years, meaning that Jourdan’s illness is almost surely absent from these records.

But this question wasn't the main focus of the mainstream media's reporting after the incident. Instead, the city's papers rushed to villify Jourdan and celebrate the bravery of the police officers. The  New York Daily News even illustrated this point by printing the headshots in two separate boxes: Jourdan under the headline "bad guys" and the officers under the headline "heroes." To Natalie, this framing was as simplistic as the superhero cartoons her brother liked to sketch as a child. To those following the national debate over gun safety that has erupted since Newtown, this narrative recalls the National Rifle Association's proposal that the only way to stop violence is to get guns in the hands of the good guys — including having a "good guy with a gun" in every school — despite evidence that the only thing more  guns cause are more homicides.

But the story of Peter Jourdan is more complicated than any black-and-white, hero-and-villian narrative. To those closest to Peter Jourdan, their tragedy is an example of how guns, and their shocking accessibility, is what kills people — a story that has been obscured by a mainstream media that cannot imagine the shooter himself as another victim of the gun manufacturing industry.

“I’m not trying to say my brother did anything correct,” said Natalie. “But they definitely painted a picture of him that was false… they didn’t even release [information on his illness] in the press. For all his life he was a schizophrenic. But when he was shot dead, then he was cured — he was just a criminal. That’s amazing. The police cured him. All my life, I couldn’t do that.”

Laura Gottesdiener is a freelance journalist and the author of "A Dream Foreclosed: Black America and the Fight for a Place to Call Home," forthcoming from Zuccotti Park Press.

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