John Hokanson Jr. is bipolar. The 33-year-old has been involuntarily committed several times, in California and in Arizona, and he has been in court-ordered outpatient treatment. Yet no red flags were raised when he purchased a surplus Army rifle from a Big 5 Sporting Goods store in Phoenix.
In fact, the only reason we know this particular mentally ill man purchased firearm is because he’s deciding to tell his story, frustrated by what he sees as a “false dichotomy” with mass shootings framed as either a mental-health issue only or a gun issue only.
Everyone agrees that guns should be kept out of the hands of the mentally ill, even the National Rifle Association. But taking the steps to make that happen is where agreement ends. The Isla Vista shooter’s fragile mental state was known by his parents and the professionals who had treated him since childhood, but police doing a “wellness check” on him at the request of his mother failed to even ask about the guns in his possession.
Hokanson thought he needed a gun because he was living in what he describes as a bad neighborhood. This was in 2005-2006, so he was in his mid-twenties. During a depressive episode when he wasn’t caring for himself or cleaning his apartment, and was in the hospital awaiting evaluation, his sister took it upon herself to break into his apartment and remove the rifle. She took it to a gun turn-in program. Initially furious with his sister, Hokanson came to see the wisdom in what she did.