Better gun monitoring

Monday, November 17, 2003

It's unfortunate that some improvements are born of terrible situations. That's the case with a new firearms release form introduced by the Cape Girardeau County prosecuting attorney's office last week.

It began with the Nov. 1 shooting death of Terry Lynn, 26. Gregory McNeely, 24, is charged with Lynn's death. The very Cape Girardeau Police Department report used to justify his incarceration in the case was the same document that revealed McNeely never should have had the gun.

A 1996 federal law bars those convicted of domestic assault from receiving firearms, even from police departments. When the police arrested McNeely in April for assaulting his girlfriend, they found the pistol and confiscated it.

Lynn pleaded guilty to an assault charge, served five days in jail and was placed on probation. On June 17, prosecutor Morley Swingle signed an authorization form for police to release the gun back to McNeely, who picked it up June 23.

Swingle admits he never should have signed the form. But the real mistake, he said, was that no one directed McNeely to get a form from the sheriff's office to transfer ownership of the gun to a friend or relative. Then it could have been returned to someone with a legal right to own it.

Instead, the gun was used in a murder four months later.

Firearms and other weapons are readily available to someone with a lot of anger. But the county prosecutor wants to make sure his office isn't ever at the center of another shooting case again.

That new firearms release form developed by Swingle requires prosecutors to check office records for any convictions that would prohibit the defendant from possessing a gun. It also instructs police to check their own records -- an added layer of protection.

Even now, the process isn't over. Cape Girardeau's police chief, Steve Strong, said he plans to meet with Swingle to see what more can be done.

A good first step has been taken.

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