Andrew Cuomo's state of the state address stuck out to me for numerous reasons, the least of which was his bombastic delivery. He specifically mentioned mental health exams:
The governor proposed increasing penalties for illegal purchasing of guns and having mental health professionals report to law enforcement when a gun owner is likely to harm others.Unless Cuomo is calling for a new mental health evaluation of every person who attempts to purchase a firearm, he's calling for laws already on the books that simply aren't being enforced. Notes the Christian Science Monitor:
The ability to own a firearm is a constitutionally protected right, and depriving someone of that right involves a legal process. Under the 1968 law, a person must be declared mentally unfit by a court or have been committed to a mental institution to lose his or her right to possess firearms. In 1993, the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Actrequired the establishment of a national database known as the National Instant Background Check System (NICS), where the names of people ineligible to possess firearms are to be entered.Let's use the case of Jared Loughner as an example. Loughner was suspended from Pima Community College for his behavior, for his outbursts in class; his behavior scared teachers and students alike. From the WSJ:
Students and faculty at Pima Community College feared for their safety as Jared Lee Loughner's increasingly erratic behavior led to a series of encounters with campus police in the eight months before he was suspended from school last fall, police reports show. After he was accused of shooting 19 people last Saturday, school officials described his behavior while at Pima as odd and disruptive. But police reports show in chilling detail that the behavior frightened students and teachers. In February, a rattled student told school officials she feared he had a knife, after Mr. Loughner upset his Advanced Poetry Writing class by making comments such as, "why don't we just strap bombs to babies." In May, an instructor was so worried about physical violence on Mr. Loughner's part that she requested—and received—a police guard outside her class. By June, a dean told the police that students in Mr. Loughner's math class were "afraid of any repercussions that could exist from Loughner being unstable in his actions." The school finally suspended Mr. Loughner in late September, after police officers who removed him from a biology class told the school they believed he had mental health problems. Loughner was not allowed back at school without a mental health clearance.Contrary to Cuomo:
There are no laws that require colleges to disclose concerns about potentially dangerous students to off-campus authorities, apart from mental-health professionals who must alert law enforcement if a threat to an identifiable victim is imminent. Moreover, it is nearly impossible to predict whether any given individual is going to become violent, say psychiatrists. "We will never be able to anticipate all acts of violence and perhaps not even most acts of violence," says Paul Appelbaum, a professor of psychiatry, medicine and law at Columbia University.A dean at Pima Community College spoke with police about Loughner. Even after Loughner's five separate run-ins with college police (pdfs), police saw no reason to act.
The police told Ms. Houston they would check Mr. Loughner's history and if there was cause for concern, they would talk to him. After looking into Mr. Loughner's background and finding some "prior drug involvement but no warrants," the police decided not to take any action. "For now, this report documents the faculty's concerns but does not in my opinion justify making contact with Loughner by police," wrote Officer D. Simmons.
9 On Your Side also tested another of the assertions that Klinge made on Monday. Specifically, in her Monday e-mail Klinge labelled as an "error" the suggestion that "The College did not share information with local law enforcement." Klinge went on to say that PCC officers are local law enforcment, pointing out that they are sworn and certified by the Arizona Peace Officers Standards and Training Board. She then asserted that those officers did share information with off-campus law enforcement about Loughner. "They file their own reports and share a database with Pima County Sheriff's Office." Does the Pima County Sheriff's Department agree that it received notification about Loughner? In a word, no. 9 On Your Side put that question to spokesman Jason Ogan. Ogan said that entering information into the database that Klinge referenced does not amount to an alert or notification. "It's simply a bank where files, reports and other information can be stored. The Sheriff's Department does not monitor nor does it investigate reports that other agencies place in the system," Ogan told Doan. As part of her explanation for that "error" label, Klinge went on to point out that it is standard procedure for campus officers notify another agency when delivering a suspension notice off campus. "The PCC police department contacts the agency in whose jurisdiction the notice is being delivered," she wrote.As it turned out, Pima Community College didn't follow its own guidelines for dealing with such a matter as Loughner:
Combined with earlier documents obtained by KGUN9 News, the evidence shows that PCC did not strictly adhere to its own internal guidelines in its handling of Loughner. In a public records request filed with PCC on February 22, 9 On Your Side asked to see any documents setting out guidelines or procedures for contacting mental health authorities about a student. On Wednesday PCC provided a copy of campus police "Operational Directive 901 - Handling the Mentally Ill," approved in 2007 by its top campus police officer, Stella Bay. [...] Operational Directive 901 also gives officers another, more direct option. It specifically states that officers do have the authority to mandate a health evaluation under Arizona Title 36, and that a petition for such an involuntary commitment can be made by phone to the appropriate hospital. The directive sets out specific parameters under which an officer may make such a call. Number one: "The applicant personally observes overt symptoms of mental illness on the part of the person to be admitted." The September 23 police report shows that, in the opinion of officers States and Maddox, Loughner's behavior did meet that test. Parameter number two: "The applicant believes through personal observation that the person to be committed is a danger to self or others." The evidence shows that at the time, some at PCC believed, or at least suspected, that Loughner met that test, too. According to a PCC press release issued on the day of the shooting, the language "danger to self or others" is the precise wording PCC used in its suspension letter to Loughner. That letter told him not to come back to campus until and unless he could find a mental health professional to certify that he posed no such threat. [...] So why didn't PCC act? With the college repeatedly refusing to grant on-camera interviews or answer 9 On Your Side's questions, that answer may never be known.
There is no known record that a court had ever declared Loughner mentally unfit or that he had ever been committed to a mental institution. But even if that had been the case, there’s no guarantee that Loughner’s name would have appeared in the national database. Some states have been slow to report names that belong in the “do not sell” list, even after Congress passed a law in 2007 aimed at punishing states with inadequate compliance records and providing incentives to states with good reporting records.What? You mean states are slow to follow the law, if they do at all? Why then, let's pass more laws for criminals and state lawmakers to disregard! It seems as though Loughner could have easily been declared mentally unfit to own a firearm. However, had Pima Community College followed their own protocol and reported such, there still isn't a guarantee that he would have been prevented from doing so because states are slow to follow the very laws passed, even after other laws are passed to get them to follow the previous laws they also ... didn't ... follow. Brilliant. Unless a court of law finds you mentally unfit (established in 1968), your right to bear arms is protected. It was anything but gun laws that failed in Loughner's case -- which is so similar to the cases of the other shooters. People have to FOLLOW laws for the laws to work.