Dems join NRA to push gun restrictions for mentally ill

When it comes to gun legislation, Miami Democrats and the National Rifle Association rarely see eye to eye.

But in the latest gun related controversy to hit the state Capitol, the sometimes foes have struck common cause: preventing firearms from falling into the hands of the mentally ill.

While a bill to accomplish as much currently sits on Gov. Rick Scott’s desk, critics clamor for a veto as they maintain the legislation amounts to a power grab that will lead to unintended consequences.

The bill’s sponsor, state Rep. Barbara Watson, D-Miami, told Florida Watchdog, “This bill is not about the little old lady who had a breakdown or a man who is coping with the loss of his wife and needs counseling.”

“The reason for the bill is to prevent cases like one Dade County man who had 200 guns and 15,000 rounds of ammunition while living across the street from a school. He believed in the Mayan doomsday calendar and thought the world was going to end last February,” Watson said.

Still, Scott has received 17,008 emails and 2,711 phone calls in opposition to HB 1355 since Tuesday, according to the Miami Herald. Most are from gun owners concerned about their constitutional rights.

Mental health advocates are also skeptical of the legislation, and say the measure could backfire by discouraging gun owners from seeking mental help.

On that account, Marion Hammer, former NRA president and current lobbyist for the powerful gun rights group, issued a clarification.

In an email to Florida Watchdog, Hammer wrote, “The truth is HB-1355 is very limited. It is not about people who voluntarily go to private counseling for help. It is not about people who voluntarily go to a doctor for help. It is not about people who voluntarily go to a public clinic for help.”

“It only applies to people with mental illnesses who are already in a mental health facility under a Baker Act (or involuntary) petition and who have subsequently been diagnosed as being an imminent danger to self or others,” wrote Hammer.

Under current law, federally licensed gun dealers are required to perform background checks to prevent the sale of firearms to individuals with an established history of mental illness.

There are 90,000 mental health records in the state mental competency database, according to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. These individuals are prohibited from purchasing guns until they are deemed competent by a mental health official.

The new legislation could add as many as 100,000 more individuals to the list as those who voluntarily seek mental help – and are adjudicated incompetent – are subject to the same restrictions.

“We are not targeting individuals’ constitutional rights. The bill deals with a single population and it’s about public safety,” Watson said.

“The NRA worked with the Judge, bill sponsors, FDLE, FBI and legislative staff in the House and Senate to protect gun rights as well as find a way to help keep dangerous people with mental illnesses from being able to purchase firearms. That’s what the bill does,” Hammer said.

Scott has two weeks to sign or veto the legislation.

Published with permission from Watchdog.org

Contact William Patrick at [email protected]

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