A bill awaiting Gov. Rick Scott‘s signature that would limit gun sales to some of those who receive mental treatment has spurred dueling campaigns among gun rights groups and worries among some mental-health providers.
State law already prohibits gun purchases by those involuntarily committed. The new bill would widen that prohibition to include those who are committed for treatment either voluntarily or against their will and are considered an “imminent danger” to themselves and others.
The bill was sponsored by Rep. Barbara Watson, D-Miami Gardens, and Sen. Audrey Gibson, D-Jacksonville, in the wake of the December school shooting in Newton, Conn.
It drew little attention during the legislative session, passing unopposed in the Senate. In the House, it was approved with only one vote against it, cast by Rep. John Tobia, R-Melbourne.
Since then, however, a wave of protest emails has rolled in to Scott’s office from gun-rights activists calling the bill an attack on Second Amendment rights. That campaign has been organized by the group Gun Owners of America.
“Don’t allow the healthcare industry to determine who can and cannot own firearms,” reads a GOA email to supporters around the country. “Help our friends out in Florida by calling Governor Rick Scott to urge him to veto HB 1355.”
The National Rifle Association is counterattacking, urging its supporters to contact Scott’s office with an appeal to sign the bill. Gun rights are not at issue, according to the most visible gun-rights group in the country. The email campaign is misinformed, it says.
According to an “action alert” blasted by the NRA on Wednesday, the bill applies only to “people with mental illnesses who are already in a mental health facility under a Baker Act petition AND who have subsequently been diagnosed as being an imminent danger to self or others.”
“The bill has two triggers: the Baker Act commitment and the diagnosis of being an imminent danger to self or others …,” the NRA wrote.
“Currently, people being held in a mental health facility under a Baker Act Commitment and who are subsequently determined to be a danger to themselves or others, may voluntarily agree to be committed for treatment to avoid going to court …
“The problem is that some of these dangerous people with mental illnesses, who are known to be a danger to self or others, immediately revoke their voluntary agreement as soon as they reach the treatment facility. They must then be released within 24 hours. They do it repeatedly. The system has become like a revolving door and is failing. People with mental illnesses, who are KNOWN to be a danger to self or others, are not being stopped from purchasing firearms.”
The NRA says it worked on the bill with its sponsors, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and the FBI to craft some way to keep firearms out of the hands of the mentally ill.
“That’s what this bill does,” the NRA email states.
On the mental health side, some professionals in the field fear such a law will deter gun owners from seeking treatment for potential mental illnesses.
John Bryant, of the Florida Council for Community Health, told News 4 in Jacksonville, will make the job of mental-health providers more difficult by making those who seek treatment afraid to do so.
“I think the people who have to implement this bill will find out it’s a lot more complicated and difficult to implement than anyone envisioned,” he told the station in a news report.
Scott has until July 2 to decide whether to sign the bill.