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Sunday, March 23, 2014

"Good policy, not a kneejerk reaction"

Leaders submit Behavioral Health and Firearms Safety Task Force’s legislation

fail animated GIFSTATE HOUSE – The co-chairwomen of the task force that studied the nexus of mental health laws and gun rights have introduced legislation recommended by the panel to submit more data to the national database used to screen gun purchasers.

The 20-member Joint Behavioral Health and Firearms Safety Task Force, led by co-chairwomen Rep. Deborah Ruggiero and Sen. Catherine Cool Rumsey, spent much of the fall and winter studying whether laws should be strengthened to prevent tragedies like the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., in 2012.

The legislation (2014-H 7939), submitted in the House Thursday by Representative Ruggiero and  in the Senate by Senator Cool Rumsey, would enact one of the task force’s major recommendation: that Rhode Island begin submitting limited additional information to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) about people who are involuntarily committed in court for mental health treatment and pose a threat of violence to themselves or others. Rhode Island already submits relevant criminal records to NICS, and requires all gun purchasers to submit to a NICS check to ensure they are not disqualified from owning a gun.

“We’ve worked hard to find the delicate balance between protecting public safety and not unnecessarily treading on people’s individual rights. This legislation is a good step for Rhode Island, helping us to keep guns out of the hands of people who have been adjudicated and found to have a very serious problem and to be dangerous, without violating their privacy. I’m proud to submit this legislation,” said Representative Ruggiero (D-Dist. 74, Jamestown, Middletown.)

Said Senator Cool Rumsey (D-Dist. 34, Exeter, Charlestown, Hopkinton, Richmond, West Greenwich), “The task force had all the stakeholders at the table, and was a success story in building good policy, not a kneejerk reaction. We’ve very narrowly defined the people who will be affected by the change, we’ve protected their privacy and we’ve provided a way for them to apply for relief.” She added that the experience of serving on the task force was an excellent education into the intricacies of both firearms and related laws and the mental health system.

Under the legislation District Court, which adjudicates involuntary commitment of individuals to mental health care, would submit limited information to NICS about commitment. Only those who are adjudicated in court, involuntarily committed as a result, and also deemed a danger to themselves or others would be included, and only enough information to identify the individual would be submitted, not any information about the nature of the person’s mental health issue. Those who seek mental health treatment on their own would not be affected.

The legislation also establishes a panel of mental health and law enforcement professionals to which a person who is disqualified from owning a gun under this legislation may seek to have the disqualification lifted.

The legislators have also submitted another bill (2014-H 7940) recommended by the task force to remove outdated language in weapons law relating to “habitual drunkards.” The task force recommended changes to laws containing outdated, poorly defined or inconsistent references to substance abuse or mental health issues.