Democrats Introduce Gun Control Legislation For Mentally Ill

| by Kathryn Schroeder

Legislation to stop those with mental health issues from purchasing or possessing firearms was introduced Thursday.

Democratic Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut introduced the Safer Communities Act, which would temporarily prohibit people who have been involuntarily committed to a mental health institution from purchasing or possessing a gun, The Hill reports. Democratic Reps. Mike Thompson of California and Ed Perlmutter of Colorado, the leaders of the House Gun Violence Prevention Task Force, have also backed the bill.

The legislation would also provide improvements to the mental health system in America.

"By simultaneously improving mental health care and keeping guns out of the hands of those who would use them to harm themselves or others, this legislation takes an holistic approach to this serious issue,” Blumenthal said in a statement.

Under the proposed legislation, police could temporarily take away guns from people who were recently released from a mental health facility if there is “probable cause to believe [they] pose an imminent risk of harm to self or others.”

It would also temporarily prohibit the mentally ill from purchasing new guns upon release from a facility. After one year following the release, the individual would be able to petition to get their gun rights back.

"It's important to keep guns away from individuals who pose a threat to themselves or others and instead provide them with the mental health tools and services they need,” Perlmutter said in a statement.

Calls for stricter gun control have made headlines recently in the wake of the Charleston, South Carolina, church shooting. The Safer Communities Act is believed to be in response to the tragedy that left nine people dead.

Removing guns from the hands of the mentally ill may not be a strong solution to gun violence in America, according to a recent study.

Findings published in the journal Behavioral Sciences and the Law conclude that to reduce gun injuries and deaths there should be less focus on diagnosed mental illness and more on gun owners with a history of violent behavior, The Los Angeles Times reported.

The research, which was published in April, found that of the 310 million firearms estimated to be owned by private individuals in the United States, a disproportionate amount are owned by people who are prone to angry, impulsive behavior, and have a potentially dangerous habit of keeping guns close at hand.

The study found that keeping guns out of the hands of the mentally ill will only make a small reduction in gun violence. Fewer than one in 10 people with anger issues that also have access to guns have ever been admitted for mental health treatment or a substance abuse problem.

“Gun violence and serious mental illness are two very important but distinct public health issues that intersect only at their edges,” said study leader Jeffrey Swanson, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Duke University School of Medicine. “The traditional legal approach has been to prohibit firearms from involuntarily committed psychiatric patients.

"But now we have more evidence that current laws don’t necessarily keep firearms out of the hands of a lot of potentially dangerous individuals.”

Sources: The Hill, The Los Angeles Times

Photo Source: Houston Gun Show at the George R. Brown Convention Center/Flickr, Peretz Partensky/Flickr