Friday shooting shows difficulty in balancing rights, public safety

“The defendant, whose conduct meets the criteria … shall not possess, use, control, sell, transfer or manufacture or obtain a license to possess, use, control, sell, transfer or manufacture a firearm in this Commonwealth …”

“… the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

How do we balance the rights of two people whose lives have interconnected when guns and violence are involved? How do we uphold the guarantee that our Constitution affords when it impacts someone else’s inalienable right to pursue life, liberty and happiness?

There is no question that Christopher Fernanders was not legally allowed the firearm he is accused of using to kill his former paramour and her current Friday in Selinsgrove. Heather Sue Campbell had left Fernanders behind a year ago. He refused to let her go.

Campbell obtained a Protection From Abuse order (PFA), and criminally charged Fernanders with harassing her. Under that order, he was required to surrender firearms.

But, he was able to buy a gun, a gun that witnesses say he used to murder Campbell and Matthew Bowersox, her dinner date on Friday night, outside the restaurant where they shared their final moments.

Information from police indicates Fernanders was obsessed with Campbell, tracking her movements and writing down his plan to kill.

The law probably could not have stopped some of that, having no knowledge of Fernanders’ plan in advance. But the charges against him mean they knew of his intent.

We can only hope that Fernanders did not possess this weapon before he was served with the PFA. If he did, then it was a failure of law enforcement to remove it. If he obtained it later, then that crime suggests our current system of firearm sales and transfer needs attention.

Two people are dead despite doing the right thing — their friends and families suffering because someone already deemed too dangerous managed to make things worse.

This is clearly a loophole in our gun laws. How would you explain to the victims’ families that Fernanders was just exercising his rights? How would yours be denied if more protections were put in place to prevent him or someone like him from possessing a gun?


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