Sheriff’s death puts focus on mental health, firearms

For a few days there was speculation Mingo County, W.Va., Sheriff Eugene Crum was murdered last week because of his crackdown on illegal drug activity. But the county’s prosecuting attorney says there is no reason to believe that. Now, it appears Crum was the victim of a mentally deranged killer.

A 37-year-old man, Tennis Melvin Maynard, has been charged with walking up to Crum’s cruiser while the sheriff was sitting in it and shooting him to death. Maynard’s father said his son, wounded by a deputy who chased him down, is mentally unstable as a result of a workplace accident.

If Crum was merely the victim of a deranged killer who happened to choose him as a victim, his will be far from the only life lost for that reason during the past year or so.

Such violence raises the question of how to prevent unstable people from obtaining firearms, or even whether that is possible.

In Congress, a “universal background check” rule for gun purchases is being discussed. It has wide support, including some from gun-rights advocates.

What is very clear is that the nation’s mental health system is woefully inadequate when it comes to identifying and safely controlling unstable people.

Many will see Sheriff Crum’s death as evidence of the need for changes in the way we care for mentally ill people, as well as buy and sell firearms. We urge caution in seeking answers to both problems.