Task Force Hears Public on Guns, Mental Health

Nov 21, 2013

A joint task force is hearing public testimony this afternoon on Rhode Island's compliance - or lack there-of- with the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS). That's one of three national databases gun sellers are supposed to check before they sell you a gun, and it's the one that contains records of involuntary commitment, substance abuse, and other mental health data. The other databases contain criminal records. Rhode Island does not submit mental health records to NICS, and it's trying to figure out whether it can and should.

I began reporting on this, as a public health issue, quite a while ago. The General Assembly is just now, almost a year after the Newtown, CT massacre, convening a task force. The task force's charge: "to weigh the rights of those with behavioral health problems to own guns with the risks. The panel is also charged with conducting a review of current law and making recommendations for a more comprehensive approach to addressing the nexus between behavioral health and firearms safety."

The concerns? That people who are seriously mentally ill shouldn't have guns. On the other hand, mental health advocates are concerned about privacy. Who should be able to share and see your mental health records, and what information should be gathered and stored?

But as I reported a while ago, there's also the question of whether these databases actually work to prevent gun violence. And mental health advocates also point out that the only predictor of future violent behavior is past violent behavior - not whether you're seriously mentally ill or not.

These are sticky questions, all around. How ill is too ill when it comes to your right to buy a gun? How far back does a treatment episode have to be in your past to make it OK for you to buy a gun?

And what do you do about gun-owning parents of mentally ill kids, kids who might have access to those guns without having to go through a background check and buy them?

I'd love to hear your thoughts, especially if you attended the public hearing today.