Mental Illness Aspect Of Gun Control Debate

Posted at: 01/16/2013 6:28 PM
Updated at: 01/16/2013 6:33 PM
By: Dan Conradt

(ABC 6 News) -- Part of the gun control debate will focus on protecting the rights of the mentally ill, while protecting the public from those who might turn violent.

"If there's even one life that can be saved, then we've got an obligation to try," President Barack Obama said as he introduced his gun control plan.

And already, the debate within the debate is underway.

"We will make sure mental health providers know their options for reporting threats of violence, even as we acknowledge that someone with a mental illness is far more likely to be a victim of violent crime than the perpetrator," The President said.

This week, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signed the nation's toughest gun control measures into law.

A key piece of that legislation would require mental health professions to report to state officials any patient they deem to be a "significant risk" or "threat." It would stop mentally ill patients from buying weapons without a court order.

"This would be a sea-change that potentially opens up a huge number of patients to the intrusion of the state. Having their name, knowing that

They’re in treatment. People who are concerned about their privacy may decide to not even come in to treatment in the first place," said Dr. Paul Applebaum at New York’s Columbia University.

On Tuesday night it wasn't guns, but the threat of bombs that raised the issue in Albert Lea when a man claiming to be ex-military with a knowledge explosives was found acting suspiciously at a truck stop.

"Officers came out and started talking to him, and he started talking about explosives and that his car was apparently packed with bombs," Albert Lea Public Safety Director Dwaine Winkels told us.

The car was not packed with explosives, but officers didn't know that until the vehicle had been thoroughly searched.

"For us it's hyper sensitivity to people that do things like this, it also goes right along with the mental health crisis we got in this country and we're experiencing here locally. What do you do with people that act out, and they have the potential to carry out dangerous acts," Winkels said.

“I think we need more mental health professionals," U.S. Senator Al Franken said during a stop Wednesday in Rochester. Franken said he would focus the efforts of those workers on schools.

"If you catch this early and treat mental health issues early, that population is no more violent than the general population. But if you allow it to go untreated, that population will become more violent."