Editorial Column: Troubled Vet

The Press Democrat

August 9, 2008 – As demonstrated by today’s letters to the editor, the story of Matthew Jensen, a Marine and Iraq war veteran whose facing a felony weapons charge, has struck a chord with readers — with good reason.

The Santa Rosa man called 911 seeking help and now may face prison time.

The story touches some raw nerves with readers over our nation’s care for Iraq war veterans as well as the adequacy of Sonoma County’s response to mental health crises.

But the story is particularly troubling for the shortfall of judgment and proportion in the decision to pursue felony charges over a weapon that can’t be loaded and can’t be fired.

Matthew Jensen, 24, said he was deeply depressed and suffering from post traumatic stress disorder when he called 911 on May 31 seeking help. When police arrived, he was unarmed and surrendered without incident. He was placed on a psychiatric hold and eventually was taken to the Veterans Administration hospital in Palo Alto for treatment.

But in the process, officers discovered a 1940s-design SKS assault rifle on the floor of Jensen’s parents’ home. A short time later, the Sonoma County District Attorney’s Office issued a warrant for Jensen’s arrest.

Jensen said he took the rifle from a dead insurgent sniper in Iraq and brought it back as a gift to his father. He said he removed the rifle’s firing pin and firing mechanism so that it can’t be loaded and can’t be fired.

Nevertheless, if Jensen is convicted, he could face jail time as well as possibly being discharged from the California National Guard, where he now serves as a corporal.

Here’s a more sensible solution to all of this: Confiscate the rifle. But let’s not take away this young man’s future by slapping him with a felony charge. Jensen did the right thing in calling 911 and asking for help. Let’s not make him — and others who may follow his example — regret that decision.Let’s not take away this young man’s future by slapping him with a felony charge.

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