Mental health requirements of NY's gun control law take effect

Mar 15, 2013

Starting this weekend, the mental health component of the New York Safe Act, the state's new gun control law, kicks in. It will require mental health care providers to notify law enforcement officials if they know of anyone who could be a danger to themselves or others. Law enforcement then compares names to gun registration databases, and if there's a match, confiscate guns or revokes a pistol permit. While many mental health professionals are say they are ready for the paperwork, they aren't convinced it will do any good.

Robert Gregory says he can't think of a single case in 20 years as a mental health provider that this kind of reporting would have saved a life, but says he can think of several times when it could have led to violence.

"That presents another obstacle, another barrier for people who are already pretty suspicious of mental health professionals, and makes it harder for them to get into treatment that may be absolutely essential for lowering their risk of harm to others," he said.

Gregory, a professor and interim chairman of psychiatry at Upstate Medical University worries that the Safe Act could have unintended consequences when it interferes with doctor patient trust. He's also concerned that the act unfairly targets people suffering from severe mental illness -- people not likely to commit such crimes.

"It's natural for us to think that anyone who would do anything as senseless as the Herkimer shootings or the Newtown massacre, anyone who would do anything that horrific has to be absolutely out of their mind, has to be absolutely crazy. But the reality is no. These are people who are by and large more detached and disconnected."

Gregory says the reality is the mental health solution needs to involve much more discussion and be much more thoughtful in order to get to the roots of violence in this country -- for example, looking at ways to keep people more connected with family and community.