Potential Gun Reforms: Stricter Background Checks and Greater Access to Mental Health Records
Hennepin County Sheriff Rich Stanek: “The severely mentally ill should never have access to guns. We have an epidemic of untreated mental illness in the U.S. and right here in Minnesota.”
The following was released by the Hennepin County Sheriff's Office:
Hennepin County Sheriff Rich Stanek, the Minnesota Sheriffs’ Association, Hennepin County Judge Jay Quam and a coalition of community partners that included advocates for the mentally ill and state lawmakers gathered in St. Paul Wednesday to discuss potential reforms to address concerns about the role of mental illness and extreme gun violence.
Among the proposed reforms: strengthen existing gun background check laws, provide greater access to mental health records for law enforcement and address gaps in providing services and resources to Minnesotans who live with untreated mental illness.
“We have an access problem,” said Sheriff Stanek, “The severely mentally ill should never have access to guns. We have an epidemic of untreated mental illness in the U.S. and right here in Minnesota.”
Following the events of Newtown, Connecticut, the nation has been engaged in an important conversation about extreme gun violence and the role of mental illness. The discussion has focused on federal laws and policies.
Today, a broad coalition of community leaders in Minnesota announced that they have identified actions that can be done now in Minnesota to improve public safety and public health.
“Our criminal justice system is failing the interests of the people living with mental illness and we need to improve the system so this population is not languishing in jail,” said Judge Jay Quam, Hennepin County Mental Health Court.
Judge Quam considers petitions for mental health commitments following the determination that someone is incompetent to proceed in a criminal case. He also made recommendations to improve how the courts deal with mentally ill people such as streamlining the process for people with the most acute symptoms.
These potential reforms were discussed Wednesday:
1. Improve the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (“NICS”). NICS is a national database of records on persons who may be disqualified from owning or purchasing firearms; the system is only as complete and timely as the information provided by each of the respective 50 states (participation is voluntary). Minnesota’s Bureau of Criminal Apprehension manages and maintains Minnesota’s NICS system information; Minnesota should ensure that all felony and drug convictions and mental health court orders and other disqualifying gun ownership records are sent to the BCA in an electronic format within 24 hours, and entered immediately into NICS.
2. Law Enforcement Access to Mental Health Records. Law enforcement officers and correctional and detention professionals should have ready access to critical (and already public) mental health court records --in responding to 911 calls, in performing background checks, and for booking and housing arrestees -- but we do not have the information-sharing systems we need.
3. Improve the procedures for inmate competency (Rule 20.01) and civil commitment (MN Stat. 253B) evaluations and treatment. Inmates who have been referred for a Rule 20 hearing are evaluated for their mental competency to stand trial; if there is a commitment hearing, there must be a separate evaluation, and the intervening period can take weeks or months. These evaluations could be combined in appropriate cases, and additional treatment options could be made available for restoring competency, which would return defendants back to criminal court more quickly. Improving the procedures will reduce the time a defendant with mental illness spends in jail without adequate mental health treatment.
4. Review Minnesota’s Civil Commitment Law. Under current Minnesota law, Courts may only order mental health treatment when an individual has been determined by law to be a danger to themselves or others, which is a very high threshold. Minnesota should review and consider this legal standard and compare to the “need-for-treatment” standards adopted in 27 other states. A thorough review would include consideration and protection of the subject’s constitutional and privacy rights, as well as access to services for family members of the mentally ill who seek care for their loved ones before they may become a danger to themselves or others.
5. Assess the in-patient and out-patient psychiatric resources available to serve the mentally ill in Minnesota, including those in the criminal justice system. Consider the settings and programs in between the hospital and a person's own home, as well as services such as Assertive Community Treatment (ACT) that help people with serious mental illnesses remain healthy and independent in their own homes. Ensuring adequate community-based resources will help solve other related problems. In particular, once a court of law has determined that an individual is incompetent to stand trial, he/she should be moved out of the Jail setting immediately, and into an adequate care and treatment environment; we do not want to criminalize mental illness. Once a court has stayed or dismissed criminal charges due to mental illness, there is questionable legal authority or justification for any individual to be held in pre-adjudication detention.
A coalition community partners attended the meeting to demonstrate their support for a discussion on these issues. Among those who attended:
· Sheriff Jim Olson, Carver County
· Rep. Dan Schoen
· Judge Jay Quam, Hennepin County (Mental Health Court)
· Rep. John Lesch
· Sen. Ron Latz
· Sue Aberdholden, NAMI-MN (National Alliance on Mental Illness Minnesota)
· Mike Freeman, Hennepin County Attorney
· Sen. Julianne Ortman
· Jim Franklin, Executive Director, Minnesota Sheriffs’ Association
· Dave Pecchia, Executive Director, MN Chiefs of Police
· Sheriff Matt Bostrom, Ramsey County
· Sheriff Bill Hutton, Washington County
· Sheriff Dave Bellows, Dakota County
How do you feel about these potential reforms?