|Washington, DC−The Coalition to Stop Gun Violence (CSGV) opposes S. 2002, the “Mental Health and Safe Communities Act of 2015,” in its current form and urges Senator John Cornyn (R-TX), the sponsor of the legislation, to reconsider some of its key provisions.
Senator Cornyn has championed his legislation as an attempt to “fix the existing background check system [for gun buyers],” but in many ways S. 2002, if enacted, would do exactly the opposite.On the positive side, S. 2002 provides financial incentives to states to report disqualifying criminal and mental health records to the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS). It also redefines and replaces offensive, outdated terms in federal law like “mental defective” from the 1968 Gun Control Act
Unfortunately, S. 2002 would also significantly weaken NICS by allowing individuals at a heightened risk of dangerous behavior to purchase and possess firearms. The bill has been endorsed by the National Rifle Association. Under federal law, an individual is prohibited from buying or possessing firearms for life (barring future restoration by a state court) if he/she has been involuntarily committed to a mental institution or adjudicated by a court or other legal authority for reasons of mental illness as someone who: 1) Is a danger to himself or to others; 2) Lacks the mental capacity to contract or manage his own affairs, or; 3) Is found insane by a court in a criminal case, or incompetent to stand trial. This standard expressly excludes voluntary commitments. Under S. 2002, those who have been ordered to mental health treatment against their will would be able to legally own and purchase firearms again as soon as they are released from a treatment facility, a critical time in their recovery.
While in a facility, individuals receive treatment for their mental illness and maintain regular schedules (including for medication) in a supervised setting. Once released, they again assume full responsibility for their health and well-being while simultaneously readjusting to society. This can be incredibly stressful and difficult. Research shows that individuals with mental illness experience higher rates of violent behavior (on average) than the general population during this period. Automatically restoring firearms rights in these circumstances could put such individuals (and those around them) at substantial risk.
“S. 2002 would not have prevented mass shooters like Dylann Roof, Mohammad Youssuf Abdulazeez and John Russell Houser from walking into a gun store, passing a background check, and obtaining a firearm,” said Ladd Everitt, Director of Communications for the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence. “And these are individuals who were exhibiting multiple red flags concerning violent behavior that were clear for all to see.”
“Most Americans dealing with mental health issues will never be violent toward others,” said Josh Horwitz, CSGV Executive Director. “But for that subset in crisis, it’s important to have sound policy to alleviate the risk of gun-related violence. S. 2002 takes some positive steps forward as we debate the subject of guns and mental health, but it would allow too many at-risk individuals to have immediate access to firearms, and that is unacceptable.”