The gun law rubber hits the mental health road

Mental health advocates protest the NY-SAFE Act in March, 2013 at a state hearing. Photo: Karen DeWitt

Mental health advocates protest the NY-SAFE Act in March, 2013 at a state hearing. Photo: Karen DeWitt

Hey, remember back when New York’s new gun law, the NY-SAFE Act, passed the legislature, and then Gov. Cuomo signed it really fast by invoking the message of necessity? A lot of people, even some who weren’t opposed to what was actually in the new law, were rather put out by that, and ultimately the state did find itself in a position of having to reconsider some parts of the bill.

One group that’s been particularly concerned about some provisions in the new law is mental health advocates, who have made arguments that people with mental illness are unfairly stigmatized by certain aspects of NY-SAFE. At the time, Harvey Rosenthal, of the New York Association of Psychiatric Rehabilitation Services, said in a story reported by Karen DeWitt (link above) that

The environment of criminalization and demonization of people with mental illnesses has really reached a peak here in Albany…I’ve never seen it like this.

Rosenthal went on to say that the law, which requires therapists and other clinicians to report patients to a state centralized database if they might be a threat to themselves or others, after which authorities could take away patients’ guns, could damage the relationship of trust that (ideally) exists between therapists and patients.

It makes people not want to share or go to therapy…and that’s the exact opposite of what we should be trying to do right now.

Anyway, that was back in early March. Now it’s been a couple months since those provisions took effect, and mental health agencies are starting to figure out how to work with them. An article in the Plattsburgh Press-Republican describes how the system works, and how providers are feeling about it. I won’t go into the details here, but there’s a lot of judgment calls involved, and a lot of potential pitfalls in what’s proving to be a complicated reporting system.

Sherrie Gillette, director of community services at Clinton County Mental Health and Addiction Services, is quoted in the article saying that while she understands the need to take action to prevent future shootings, “the person with mental illness is far more likely to be a victim than a perpetrator.” Patients also aren’t notified that they’re being reported, and there’s no opportunity for them to respond to the situation, the article says. It’s also worth mentioning that a high percentage of those who seek mental health services, particularly emergency or inpatient services, express a desire to harm themselves (more on the NY-SAFE Act from the New York State Office of Mental health here.)

Gillette says with the law being so new, it’s hard to say what the impact has been so far. But she says she doesn’t think it’s the solution.

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12 Comments on “The gun law rubber hits the mental health road”

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  1. The Original Larry says:

    It’s an ill conceived and poorly thought out law, but hey, it was important to do something…anything, in the aftermath of Newtown. Wasn’t it?

  2. Tony Goodwin says:

    I agree with The Original Larry. Do any of those seeking treatment actually need to own a gun? And in light of the the recent Boston Marathon bombings, who can remember the last time there was a major public bombing? Most of whom that I have asked that question only remember the bombing at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta. Since then, there have been many, many publicized mass shootings plus many more shootings that didn’t make the news. Why no bombing but so many shootings? You can but an assault in many stores, but you can’t walk in and buy a pressure-cooker bomb off the shelf.

  3. The Original Larry says:

    Plenty of thumbs down but no comments? Could be because there’s nothing to say. Those who counseled for reasoned, well considered debate were shouted down for wanting to avoid the issue by delaying tactics. Well, you got what you wanted, so what do you say about this now? Not one person will be saved by this idiotic law but the unintended consequences will harm and possibly kill many. No comment about that?

  4. Mike says:

    Tony, I think you missed the point that Larry made. The law was rushed through without extensive review. Because of the way it was written it is primarily impacting law abiding citizens. No where in the US Constitution or in the NY Constitution does it say that if a person wanted a firearm they were required to demonstrate a need. I do agree though that if someone is deemed mentally incapable or a threat to themselves or others then firearms should be removed from their homes. However, there needs to be due process for the removal.

  5. dan3583 says:

    Interesting question from Tony. Does anyone “need” to own a gun, especially a hand gun or assault-type weapon? Most Western nations would say no.

    Additionally, Mike, you are also correct when you say that it impacts law abiding citizens. This next may very well not apply to you, but the intel gathering we’re hearing about now mostly impacts law abiding citizens as well.

    Why is that so many who think the 2nd Amendment is inviolable think the 4th is up for grabs? When it comes to back ground checks, doesn’t the same rubric of “if you ain’t breaking the law, why do you care?” apply? If not, why not?

  6. EVH says:

    Interesting post, dan3583, and a very good question.

  7. jason says:

    All this has done is create the largest firearm, ammunition, and accessory black market this state has ever seen. With everyone who was law abiding being treated like a criminal, there is now a total disdain for any and all firearm laws. Personally it has been scary to watch unfold. Nice job Cuomo! You now are the second greatest gun salesman in history.

  8. Hoosier3 says:

    How did we go from a proud patriotic Republic built on the foundation of our Constitution and Bill of Rights to the politically corrected anti-Constitution and anti-Bill of Rights social justice democracy? Why are we so willing to give up what is proven to set America apart from all other countries? Why are we so fast to give up any of our rights? It is astounding that we have arrived at this place of self-destruction.

  9. Hoosier3 says:

    Why is it the logic of passing new gun law is “if we can save one life it’s worth it” but we cannot pass legislation that protects the unborn? If it would save one life wouldn’t it be worth it?

  10. dan3583 says:

    Hmm…Must admit, curious as to what part of my comment drew the thumbs down.

  11. Les says:

    I am a war veteran, and I have PTSD. I have guns, that does not mean I am going to kill people with them. I don’t think people should rush to say anyone with a mental illness can not own a firearm. When I served my country I was called a hero, now people want to strip me of the rights and freedoms I once protected. Don’t be so quick to judge.

  12. SES ZOO says:

    Yes ,some mental illness problems definitely need to be reported especially if there’s the possibility of violence , But what about some of the minor problems someone might need help with sometimes , as in someone that goes through some alcohol or drug problems ,maybe seeking help from a rehab or outpatient counseling ? Or maybe a bout with depression or maybe just opening up to your doctor when your feeling down sometimes , Will these be, as they said judgement calls or will it be manditory reports even if the problem has nothing to do with guns or violence just with getting a little help ? And for the professionals will they suffer if they keep the patient /doctor confidence , I ‘d have to think this law though is going to keep a lot of people especially in the rural areas from seeking help for fear of being put in a database which will in turn might hurt a lot more families.with someone not getting sometimes just a helping hand.

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