It is not often The Shooter’s Log finds new gun control legislation being offered by the Republicans. Even more rare is a Senator with an NRA A+ rating proposing new gun control measures. However, before you get your dander standing on end, look at the details and make an informed decision. Then, leave your comments below to give your “informed” two cents.
While millions of gun owners are blamed and slandered by politicians and the media every time there is a high profile shooting, there has been a strong link in each case to mental health that is for the most part, if not completely, ignored. This fact has not evaded the radar screens of gun owners, politicians or the media. The difference has been that the mainstream media and many politicians pushing gun control have chosen to ignore it.
Even pro Second Amendment lawmakers have not taken action on mental health until recently. As a knee-jerk reaction, I would say that was a good thing. Legislation is good when it is well thought out and well reasoned, not when it is slapped together in response to a news headline the day before. That is what makes Sen. John Cornyn’s (No. 2 Republican in the Senate) proposal worthy of a look.
Misleading Measure or Misleading Media?
Cornyn’s proposed the Mental Health and Safe Communities Act, which address the heart of the problem behind high profile mass shootings—mental health. The bill seeks to reward states for sending more information regarding their residents with serious mental health issues to the federal background check system. Beyond simply data collection—because we all know passing a law will not prevent another tragedy—the new proposed bill would also bolster programs designed to treat mentally ill people and handling confrontations with the mentally ill.
“This legislation will strengthen programs that promote preventative screening and crisis response training so that we can better understand and treat the factors which may endanger public safety,” Sen. Cornyn continued. “By giving our communities the resources necessary to recognize and prevent acts of violence, we not only protect American families, but help those affected by mental illness.”
Mental health is a touchy subject. While it sounds common sense on the surface, and is often billed that way by gun control advocates and politicians, the definition is often too broad. Many veterans return from overseas tours carrying a weapon one day with the government’s blessing, then deemed unfit to own a firearm the next when they are stateside. Why? Because they sought needed help for depression or stress and in the process had their rights stripped from them.
Two years ago, the NRA and Republicans soundly defeated a Senate measure that would have expanded background check requirements; Cornyn was a big factor in ensuring that defeat. Cornyn’s bill will now compete with a new Democrat sponsored bill that was introduced about a week ago. The Democrat-led effort seeks to go much further than Sen. Cornyn’s. Nevertheless, Sen. Cornyn is breaking new ground that has some pro Second Amendment forces wary. He’s marching through seldom-charted territory by a Republican by broaching anything that could be considered gun control.
If the bill passes, some firearm purchases will be stopped. Many Second Amendment proponents do not believe there should be any sort of background check as our rights are granted by the Second Amendment. This has gun owners debating whether this the common sense legislation that is needed, or whether Sen. Cornyn betrayed his NRA A+ rating? Cornyn has a rich history of opposing measures that sought to restrict firearm ownership, but supported others that limited firearm ownership of the mentally ill. This new bill follows that line.
“Gaps in existing law or inadequate resources prevent our communities from taking proactive steps to prevent them from becoming violent,” said Cornyn, R-Texas, in a written statement.
The NRA is backing Cornyn’s proposed bill. This is not much of a surprise. NRA leaders have been on the record for some time stating the high profile shootings are not a gun issues but instead a mental health issues. Will Sen. Cornyn’s bill advance the effort to prevent the next tragedy?
Jennifer Baker, spokeswoman for NRA legislative affairs, said the bill took “meaningful steps toward fixing the system and making our communities safer.”
Mental Health and Safe Communities Act of 2015
The Mental Health and Safe Communities Act of 2015 is designed to improve outcomes for people with mental health disorders that come in contact with the criminal justice system through a number of actions, including:
- The authorization of pretrial screening, assessment, and supervision programs to improve outcomes for people with mental illnesses by ensuring they are accurately diagnosed and receive appropriate need-based treatment that focuses on increasing public safety.
- An increase in the use of treatment-based alternatives to incarceration for people with mental illnesses.
- The establishment of a pilot program to determine the effectiveness of diverting eligible offenders from federal prosecution, federal probation, or a federal corrections facility, and placing those eligible people in drug or mental health courts.
- Improvements to reentry programming for people with mental illnesses who are released into the community by authorizing the deployment of Forensic Assertive Community Treatment (FACT) Initiatives, which are designed to ensure that people with mental illnesses receive treatment-based interventions.
- The expansion of specialized law enforcement crisis intervention teams, which respond to and de-escalate mental health crises for federal law enforcement personnel.
The Mental Health and Safe Communities Act of 2015 also includes reauthorization of the Mentally Ill Offender Treatment and Crime Reduction Act (MIOTCRA), an essential funding mechanism that supports the use of mental health courts and crisis intervention teams in local law enforcement agencies. The bill would extend MIOTCRA for an additional four years, effectively filling critical gaps in the system, including providing additional resources for veterans’ treatment courts to help those suffering from behavioral or post-traumatic stress disorders. The bill also offers broader training during police academies and orientation as well as increased focus on prison- and jail-based transitional services and reentry programs that can help reduce the likelihood of recidivism.
Would Anything Change?
Arkadi Gerney, a gun policy expert for the liberal Center for American Progress, said prodding states to submit additional data to the background check system is “a good and smart notion,” but it would be better to push broader legislation “that covers all the gaps.”
If the antis agree, but think it does not go far enough, does that mean we should decide or oppose it? The current background check system already bars firearm purchases to people legally determined to be “mentally defective” and those who have been committed to mental institutions. Sen. Cornyn’s new bill would not change this. It would, however, provide more information on individuals who have already met the legal standard to have their gun rights suspended. Currently, states do not have any responsibility to share mental health information. This creates a gap in safeguarding the public versus practices.
“While potentially dangerous mentally-ill individuals are often known to law enforcement and local officials, gaps in existing law or inadequate resources prevent our communities from taking proactive steps to prevent them from becoming violent,” said Sen. Cornyn.
While Cornyn’s bill would not change the law or force state’s to comply, it purportedly would (these details are unconfirmed at this time) increase grants under the government’s main law enforcement program by up to 5 percent for states that send the federal system at least 90 percent of their records on people with serious mental problems. States providing less data could see grants from a broad range of justice programs penalized by the same amounts at the attorneys’ general’s discretion.
Well, that is about the long and short of what we know so far. How would you vote? Share your thoughts and concerns in the comment section.