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Published: Tuesday, 8/10/2004

Suicidal shooters find ranges are convenient

BY ROBIN ERB
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Marked as a convicted sex offender and facing the end of his career and marriage, Richard Borruso, 52, a pharmacist who lived on Dussel Drive in Maumee, walked in to Cleland's, set down $40 in cash, went into a practice booth, and shot himself in the head.

"This fellow was completely calm and composed," said Mike Mobley, who was practicing in the stall next to Borruso's.

While owner Theresa Cleland said it was the first suicide in Cleland's 20-year history, ranges across the country have been the site of public suicides by people seeking easy access to a gun.

Renting a firearm at a firing range allows a person to bypass the federal waiting period required to buy a gun. Borruso's conviction last year of molesting a 14-year-old girl may have made such a purchase improbable.

Preventing deaths on firing ranges might be impossible - and dangerous, said Rick Patterson, executive director of the National Association of Shooting Ranges, who said such shootings occur "from time to time."

For one thing, there are no red flag behaviors that would hint at such an intention, he said.

"It's quite the opposite," he said, adding that suicidal individuals may appear calm or relaxed. "What the psychologists have told us is that these people have made their decision."

"And the psychologists have told us, if you try to interfere, go into harm's way, you've created an unsafe situation," he added.

In Ohio, there are few regulations on shooting ranges. State law gives Ohio Department of Natural Resources' Division of Wildlife authority to set some regulations, but those are limited to nuisance type restrictions such as limits on noise levels, said Jim Lehman, a district manager for the wildlife division.

That means there are no background checks and no detailed questionnaires on a shooter's history on a gun range.

The first concern for range owners is how safely someone can handle firearms, said Jim Fletcher, general manager at Toledo Trap and Skeet. He said staff at his range query a potential user about their experience with guns, and users might be asked to demonstrate the handling of their weapon and its safety features before they're allowed on the range.

"It's a matter of how much do we police it?" Mr. Fletcher said. "We limit the accessibility to our range to those who can demonstrate the ability to handle firearms safely."

Even if they asked questions about someone's background or mental stability that day, range staff would have to rely on the applicant's truthfulness, he noted.

Certainly it wouldn't be easy for staff to foresee such a suicidal plan, according to Dr. Douglas Jacobs, an associate clinical professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School known for his expertise on detecting suicidal signs.

Of the 30,000 estimated suicides each year in the U.S., about 1,500 are committed inside the confines of a hospital where staff are trained to watch for such behavior, he said.

"If [suicidal persons] can do it in a hospital, they can do it on a firing range," Dr. Jacobs said. Firing range staff are "not clinicians and they're not expected to be."

Still, this doesn't make it any easier for folks like Theresa Cleland. She had heard of such suicides at other ranges around the country, and, in fact, a Cleland's customer tried to kill himself several years ago.

But putting in more rules and regulations, she said, would not stop deaths like that of Borruso, who was facing the revocation of his pharmacist's license because of last year's conviction, and last week had attended a court hearing on his pending divorce.

"Believe me, I've shed tears," she said. But "I can't punish the world for what one person did."

Lucas County Sheriff's Detective Cathy Stooksbury, who handled the suicide case, noted that the man who tried to kill himself at Cleland's several years ago, ultimately did so through another means.

"If someone really wants to do this," she said, "they're going to."

Contact Robin Erb at:

robinerb@theblade.com

or 419-724-6133.



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