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Gun law concerns mental health professionals

April 22, 2013
By ARTHUR CLEVELAND , The Leader Herald

Area mental health professionals say they're concerned about an aspect of the state's new gun law requiring them to report potentially dangerous patients.

The New York State SAFE Act includes a section designed to "remove firearms from those who seek to do harm to themselves or others." The law requires reporting by doctors, psychologists, licensed clinical social workers and registered nurses to advise authorities.

Since that provision of the law took effect March 16, officials have received at least 30 reports of people whose gun licenses should be reviewed, state police say.

Article Photos

New York Assemblyman Mark Butler (R) speaks to the crowd during a informational meeting for Gun Rights advocates at the Pine Tree Rifle Club.
The Leader-Herald/Arthur Cleveland

The law requires mental health professionals to report to their local director of community services when, in their reasonable professional judgment, one of their patients is likely to harm someone.

Fulton County Director of Community Services Ernie Gagnon said that after a report is made, a decision would be made by a community services director or a similar authority on whether to give the information to police.

Debbie Skivington, deputy executive director of the Family Counseling Center of Fulton County, pointed out reports would be reviewed by the authorities, who then would decide whether to take someone's guns.

"Nobody here [at the counseling center] is going to make any decision about anybody's weapons," Skivington said.

Gagnon said there are problems with the law.

"The law was not well written and there was not discussion or advisement taken from the mental health professionals in the field," he said.

Gagnon said he would need to be the one to make the decision whether someone is or isn't a danger based on the information provided by the professionals.

"For me, it's very difficult to evaluate someone I haven't seen face to face," Gagnon said.

Also, Gagnon said having a middle man would impede the process. If someone is a danger, the police should be notified sooner rather than later, he said.

"All you're going to do is really slow down the process," Gagnon said.

Dr. David Thompson, a Gloversville psychologist, said confidentiality could be broken with the new law.

"That confidentiality is the opening key in a relationship," Thompson said.

Thompson said the law could push patients away. He said it shouldn't be the job of mental health professionals alone to keep an eye on dangerous individuals.

"If you ask mental health to do the whole job, you will put people at risk," Thompson said.

Thompson said evidence should be seen before anything is reported.

"Verbalization of something shouldn't be sufficient," Thompson said.

Republican Assemblyman Marc Butler said the mental health aspects of the SAFE Act are ill-defined.

"I think the concern from the mental health professionals is that there is some ambiguity," Butler said.

He questioned aspects of the law, asking how much responsibility lies with mental health professionals.

Butler asked what would happen to the professional if he or she deems a patient safe and an incident with a firearm occurs.

"Can there be a liability for them?" Butler asked.

He also asked what would happen if a professional reports a patient, and the patient has his or her guns taken away and later sues the mental health provider.

"It comes at them from both sides," Butler said.

The mental health aspects of the act "raises some real questions how this unfortunate bill will be carried out," Butler said.

Democratic Sen. Cecilia Tkaczyk, who did not vote on the legislation, said she is uncomfortable with sections of the bill.

"I have expressed my concerns about the SAFE Act since it was signed into law, prior to my becoming senator. While I strongly support our Second Amendment rights, I also understand the need for reasonable regulations to protect our citizens. The confusion surrounding the mental health provisions of the law highlights the need to clarify and amend portions of the Act," Tkaczyk said in a prepared statement. "I agree we need clarification on that part of the law."

Democratic Sen. Joseph Addabbo of Howard Beach voted for the bill but agreed there is an issue with the mental health care aspect of it.

In an email, Addabbo said he has some concerns over one medical professional, not a panel or a group at a hearing, deeming someone unfit to own a gun.

Addabbo said it could "open a can of worms, legally."

 
 

 

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