When I posted on my blog last night about the enactment of New York’s new gun law (NY SAFE), I did not reference what is turning out to be another very controversial aspect of the legislation. Under the legislation, mental health professionals will be required to report to local mental health officials when there is reason to believe a patient is likely to engage in conduct that will cause serious harm to themselves or others. This information will then be crosschecked against the new comprehensive, and regularly updated, gun registration database. If the patient possesses a gun, the license will be suspended and law enforcement will be authorized to remove the person's firearm.
For those not shouting about New Yorker’s Second Amendment Right to Bear Arms, some are shouting about a gun bearer’s right to privacy, with the concern that such right will be violated by the above provision of the new law. Apparently, mental health experts are concerned that the gun control law might interfere with treatment of potentially dangerous people and even discourage them from seeking help.
Is Dr. Paul Appelbaum, Director of Law, Ethics and Psychiatry at Columbia University, correct when he suggests that “the prospect of being reported to the local authorities, even if they do not have weapons, may be enough to discourage patients with suicidal or homicidal thoughts from seeking treatment or from being honest about their impulses”? Is his concern realistic that “the people who arguably most need to be in treatment and most need to feel free to talk about these disturbing impulses, may be the one we make least likely to do so”. Again, am I missing something or is it better to allow those impulses to be acted upon and worry about the injuries and death which could result instead of trying to limit violent action by eliminating the means to take such action?
Some experts, such as Dr. Steven Dubovsky, Chairman of the Psychiatry Department at the University of Buffalo, are calling the new law meaningless, saying they expect that mental health providers will ignore it. Doesn’t that suggest that mental health providers would themselves be breaking the law, which I think would make them criminals, rather than risk violating a clinically unstable person’s right of privacy to commit a potentially violent crime?
I have no answers; just worries about where our society is headed when gun violence is increasing and more and more lives of children are being taken before these innocents ever have a chance to debate issues like gun control and privacy rights.