Gun Control

If You Want to Keep Your Guns in New York, Avoid Mental Health Professionals

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Office of the Governor

A few weeks ago I noted a new California law, prompted by Elliot Rodger's murders in Isla Vista last May, that lets police officers and "immediate family members" (possibly including angry ex-girlfriends and estranged in-laws) seek court orders stripping people of their Second Amendment rights without any notice or adversarial process. New York's SAFE Act, which was hurriedly passed by the state legislature last year in response to the Sandy Hook massacre, in some ways goes even further. As a story in yesterday's New York Times confirms, the law effectively gives "mental health professionals" the power to disarm people, and they do not even need a judge's approval.

The SAFE Act requires physicians, psychologists, registered nurses, and licensed clinical social workers to report any patient they deem "likely to engage in conduct that will cause serious harm to self or others." The report goes to a county mental health official, who is supposed to review the clinician's determination and, if he agrees with it, pass the information on to the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services, which checks to see if the subject has a gun permit. If he does, local officials are required to confiscate any firearms he owns. In practice, Times reporter Anemona Hartocollis found, the clinician's initial judgment is conclusive:

So many names are funneled to county health authorities through the system—about 500 per week statewide —that they have become, in effect, clerical workers, rubber-stamping the decisions, they said. From when the reporting requirement took effect on March 16, 2013 until Oct. 3, 41,427 reports have been made on people who have been flagged as potentially dangerous. Among these, 40,678—all but a few hundred cases—were passed to Albany by county officials, according to the data obtained by The Times….

Kenneth M. Glatt, commissioner of mental hygiene for Dutchess County, said that at first, he had carefully scrutinized every name sent to him through the Safe Act. But then he realized that he was just "a middleman," and that it was unlikely he would ever meet or examine any of the patients. So he began simply checking off the online boxes, sometimes without even reviewing the narrative about a patient.

"Every so often I read one just to be sure," Dr. Glatt, a psychologist, said. "I am not going to second guess. I don't see the patient. I don't know the patient." He said it would be more efficient—and more honest—for therapists to report names directly to the Division of Criminal Justice Services, which checks them against gun permit applications.

Presumably the people who wrote the bill did not take the more honest approach because they wanted to create an illusion of due process. But the truth is that the SAFE Act gives any licensed professional consulted by people with psychological problems the power to take away their right to arms. The Times reports that so far, after taking duplicative reports into account, there are about 34,500 New Yorkers in the state's database of people who are not allowed to own guns because they said the wrong thing to someone they turned to for help. Sometimes, as with the librarian who apparently lost his guns because of a Xanax prescription, you don't even have to say anything particularly disturbing. The state found that 278 of the people in the SAFE Act database had firearm permits, which are required for all gun purchases in New York City but only for handguns elsewhere in the state.

How many of those people are potential murderers? Given that psychiatrists have never been good at predicting violence, maybe none, especially since preventing self-harm counts as a legitimate reason to take away someone's guns. "The threshold for reporting is so low," a Queens psychiatrist told the Times, "that it essentially advertises that psychiatrists are mandatory reporters for anybody who expresses any kind of dangerousness." That might not be the best way of encouraging troubled people to seek help.

The SAFE Act seems designed to encourage overreporting, since mental health professionals are required to flag anyone who seems dangerous, and they face no civil or criminal liability for doing so as long as they act "reasonably and in good faith." For county officials, who supposedly are providing an additional layer of review, there is very little incentive to second-guess clinicians' judgments. If they happen to nix a report on someone who later commits a violent crime, that would look pretty bad. But if all they do is pass along a report that has the result of taking away a harmless person's constitutional rights, they are not likely to suffer any negative consequences, even if he is ultimately successful in challenging that deprivation in court. 

Reason TV on "The Truth About Mental Illness and Guns":

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  1. Mental health professionals can just hang out in front of gun shops, photograph the people walking in, and send their info right to the cops. Because wanting to own a gun is a sign of mental illness to the liberal shits running that state.

    1. Think about all the NY gun owners who won’t go to the doctor about their anxiety or depression now for fear of losing their gun license.

      I guess it’s better to have people with untreated depression on the streets than not.

      1. Government is just a term we use for the rights we violate together.

    2. It’s for our own good! That’s why we have government!

    3. I’m sorry, which article of the Constitution provides for revocation of a constitutional right without due process? Other than the unwritten FYTW clause, I mean.

    4. This sounds like hyperbole but I’ve heard the same right out of their mouths.

      “I agree that the mentally ill should be prevented from owning firearms.”
      “Good, then we can ban all guns now then.”
      “??”
      “Wanting to own a gun is prima facie evidence of mental illness.”

  2. TLDR – What degree of judicial review does this law provide for?

    1. rubber stamp

  3. What does this act do to detect the guy who’s name is on NY’s “No Guns for You” list but who goes across the border to PA and buys a long gun–where a background check isn’t required–then goes back to NY to hose down a community center?

    Was there any thinking involved in writing this law?

    1. Was there any thinking involved in writing this law?

      It bans ‘Muzzle breaks’. What do you think?

    2. Nope, just “feeling”.

    3. Pennsylvania does require background check for long guns, as does all states when purchasing from a FFL. You are correct in that the state does not require PRIVATE of long guns sales to have a background check, but inexact.

  4. I prefer to keep my guns right here, but thanks for the heads up.

  5. “So, how’s it going?”

    “Those fucking Jets… It’s like they were trying to lose that game. Fuck, I hate those guys. Yeah, hey that stuff you gave me worked great, the poison ivy is all gone. Thanks, Doc.”

    “Sally, would you get me one of those mental health report forms?”

  6. So NY has 34,500 people running around who the state thinks are “likely to engage in conduct that will cause serious harm to self or others,” and all they are doing about it is taking away gun permits? Can these official fathom no other way for these people to harm others than with a licensed gun?

    1. If these people were actually a threat to themelves or others, they’d have been committed. I don’t believe any of them are more of a risk than the average person.

      1. That’s my point. If the state actually thought these people were risks, they would do something that would actually stop them. This is pure theater.

    2. Good point. New tourism slogan for NY:

      “NY: At Least We Know How Many Crazies We Have and Where They Live!”

    3. That’s what they are hoping for. Then they can say, See! We enacted tough gun laws and there was still a (insert name of mass killing here)! The only thing left to do is take all guns!

    4. So NY has 34,500 people running around who the state thinks are “likely to engage in conduct that will cause serious harm to self or others”

      Precisely describes the NYPD.

  7. Wouldn’t any law passed in the wake of Elliot Rodger simply made it illegal for Democrats to own firearms?

  8. Reducing the use of mental health care services, just one more way Obamacare is bending the cost curve.

    1. I thought he was bending the cost curve by having the CDC spend more money on lifestyle issues.

      1. Look. Do you want the cost curve bent, or what? I mean, as long as it bends who cares which way it ends up going, right?

  9. So what we have here is a law that will either cause people to avoid getting help in the first place, therefore making things worse, or avoid registering their guns, thereby opening themselves up to arrest.

    I’d say yay for unintended consequences, but that would be cynical and I’m too depressed right now.

    1. You’re depressed? No guns for you! /soup Nazi voice

  10. The SAFE Act seems designed to encourage overreporting, since mental health professionals are required to flag anyone who seems dangerous, and they face no civil or criminal liability for doing so as long as they act “reasonably and in good faith.”

    Indeed, since many people exhibit no signs before, um, going crazy, isn’t is “reasonable and in good faith” to flag *everyone*?

    1. Yes. The fact that you don’t think you’re crazy shows that you’re crazy. Hand over the guns, buddy.

    2. You can bet that there are some anti-gun therapists who are reporting every single one of their clients, simply because they can. They have the power to bar people from owning guns, and by golly they’re going to use that power on everyone they can.

      1. I don’t know about the profession as a whole, but every psych professor I ever had was a stark raving leftist. I would guess that there’s already a fair amount of what you described happening.

        1. Every person I’ve met who was drawn to that profession was a raging leftist as well.

          1. My grandfather was a clinical psychiatrist, and he was no leftist. Might have something to do with fleeing various fascist schemes in Eastern Europe.

            1. Psychiatrists might be a bit different from psychologists. I don’t really know, but it seems like med schools might be a little less dominated by the completely insane version of leftist politics than most university psychology departments are.

      2. This is part of what is so scary. People are losing their rights because of some doctor’s political bias. Any gun owner with any sense would never even mention the fact that they own a gun to a doctor. The worst part is that cuomo is running for re-election and part of his platform is to enact even tougher gun legislation.

        1. Any gun owner with any sense would never even mention the fact that they own a gun to a doctor.

          Actually it’s worse than that. If I read this right, all that has to happen is if your shrink thinks you MIGHT be a danger to yourself or others, they report you to the county supoervisor, who then ruberstamps their report and forwards it to the state who cross checks your information with the gun registration database, and your gun rights are taken away. Your shrink doesn’t even have to know if you own a gun or not.

    3. Indeed, since many people exhibit no signs before, um, going crazy, isn’t is “reasonable and in good faith” to flag *everyone*?

      I’m sure some people will see it that way, but I would say that since so few people, whatever mental illness they may suffer from, actually go out and shoot a bunch of people it’s not reasonable to flag anyone who hasn’t said anything specific to arouse suspicions.

  11. Kenneth M. Glatt, commissioner of mental hygiene for Dutchess County

    Commissioner of Mental Hygiene ?! I have no words.

    1. Anyone who would have that title, deserves to be stood up against the wall.

      1. Unless you can find a Ron Swanson type who will run the department to be as ineffective and do as little as possible.

    2. My mental hygiene is very good, thank you. I can confidently state that my brain has never once been removed from its airtight container, so brain washing is completely unnecessary.

  12. You people that willingly live in New York, state or city, it makes no difference:

    Get the Hell out of my country.

  13. It might be a good idea to ask for doctor referrals at the shooting range.

  14. Something about foreseeable consequences and iron laws…

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