Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Good Idea Bad Reality

I applaud New York State's new gun law. I can only hope Congress does what the President will propose for new gun laws on assault weapons, high capacity magazines, background checks and whatever else he will propose, except for one thing.

I'm for restricting "mentally ill" people from buying and owning guns, but as the New York State law cites, "The most significant new proposal would require mental health professionals to report to local mental health officials when they believe that patients are likely to harm themselves or others. Law enforcement would then be authorized to confiscate any firearm owned by a dangerous patient; therapists would not be sanctioned for a failure to report such patients if they acted “in good faith.”"

This sounds great and is a great idea, but it's bad reality for several reasons. First, it puts professional therapists in the path of deciding who is sufficiently mentally ill to report as a possible risk to themself or others. That's a qualitative judgement which varys with the therapist and time with each patient.

Second there is no absolute clear rules on who is mentally ill, especially if they're under proper care and medication, for any professional therapist to determine the risk and the severity of that risk to themself or others. Again, it's a subjective and qualitative judgement, not clearly covered by any law(s).

Third, it's clear people who know they have some degree of a mental condition which might or would put them at risk of being reported won't seek help unless ordered by the court, in which case, they would have to demonstrate that risk before any court could rule.

In the case of the mass shootings in the last 10 or so years, that is what happened. Only the Tucson shooter was known to have reported mental issues but not sufficient that would warrant being called a risk under the law. It's clear to me, people just won't seek the help they need if they know they'll be on a law enforcement watch list.

In the end, I hope the New York State law clarifies with very strict limits the role of professional therapists and patients to access guns, but I suspect this will be tested by either a patient or a therapist when it is applied. It's a good idea, just bad reality.

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