ATLANTA — While some states push to tighten gun control laws after the Connecticut school massacre, lawmakers in gun-friendly Georgia want to ease rules preventing some mentally ill people from getting licenses to carry firearms.
Legislators in Georgia's House voted 117-56 on Thursday to allow people who have voluntarily sought inpatient treatment for mental illness or substance abuse to get licenses. The same bill would force officials to check on whether applicants have received involuntary treatment in the past five years before issuing licenses. Georgia also may change its laws to allow people to carry guns in churches, bars and on college campuses, contrary to what's happening elsewhere in the United States.
Judges in Georgia now have discretion over whether to grant a license to carry a weapon to anyone who has received inpatient treatment at a mental hospital or substance abuse treatment center in the last five years, whether it's voluntary or not.
"Simply being hospitalized doesn't make a person a criminal or a threat," said Rep. Rick Jasperse, R-Jasper, the bill sponsor, in a statement. The legislation now heads to the state Senate.
That change is part of a larger package showcasing the local Republican philosophy on guns. The plan, backed by a gun owners group called GeorgiaCarry.Org, would allow people to carry weapons in churches, bars and college campuses – despite the objections of higher education officials. In response to a shooting rampage that killed 26 people in Connecticut, it would allow school officials to arm their employees.
Democrats resisted the proposal, although they conceded it would likely pass in the GOP-dominated House of Representatives. They argued that allowing guns in more places will not make society safer and may lead to more deaths.
"I'm not, by nature, a worrier," said Rep. Scott Holcomb, a Democrat. "But I worry that the mix of alcohol, drugs, sex and immaturity on college campuses could be fatal."
Law enforcement officials say they now screen people seeking to carry guns against a database with information on involuntary treatment orders, though officials acknowledge it is probably incomplete. Judges can require that people seeking a license authorize the release of treatment records and allow the judge to get a recommendation from treatment providers. Because there is no single clearinghouse for treatment information, judges would have to send waivers to multiple hospitals or treatment centers to get information.
Jasperse's bill would require that courts submit involuntary treatment orders to a database, and the legislation would force judges to run those checks before issuing a license to carry a weapon. It would also ban people whom law enforcement officials hear making threats against others in the last five years from carrying weapons. Those represented by guardians or conservators because of mental illness or drug abuse would also be disqualified.
One prosecutor said he was concerned about the provision because not everyone with serious mental illness is forced to receive treatment, meaning they would be eligible to carry weapons.
"My concern would be there's got to be people who voluntarily seek inpatient treatment who wouldn't be any less dangerous than if they're sent there involuntarily," Cobb County District Attorney Vic Reynolds said Wednesday.
Federal law prohibits giving or selling guns to anyone who judged to be "mentally defective" or those committed to a mental institution. States set their own standards on who can carry weapons. Some states use the same mental health threshold when deciding whether someone should be prohibited from carrying a gun.
Other states like Georgia have gone further. For example, Massachusetts allows authorities to deny people a license to carry if applicants have been confined for mental health treatment, according to a survey by the National Conference of State Legislatures. Mississippi will deny licenses to people who have been committed, voluntary or otherwise, unless a psychiatrist testifies they have been free of mental illness for five years. Texas considers psychiatric hospitalization grounds for being refused to carry a concealed weapon.
The legislation is backed by GeorgiaCarry.Org, a gun owners group that has been more aggressive about expanding rights to carry weapons in Georgia than the National Rifle Association, which supports a more limited slate of changes.
Jerry Henry, executive director of GeorgiaCarry.Org, said the original law was too restrictive and could, for example, deny a license to military veterans voluntarily seeking help for stress-related disorders.
"If he seeks health treatment on his own it should not be held against him," Henry said.
Follow Ray Henry on Twitter: http://twitter.com/rhenryAP
Funds For First Responders
The Obama administration will call on Congress to provide additional funding to train public and private personnel at schools to respond to active shooter situations.
Invest In School Safety Strategies
The Obama administration, through executive action, encourages school districts to use Comprehensive School Safety Grants to purchase school safety equipment, develop and update public safety plans, conduct threat assessments and train "crisis intervention teams" of law enforcement officers to work with the mental health community while responding and assisting students in crisis.
Money For Safer & Nurturing School Climates
The Obama administration cites that with technical assistance from the Department of Education, 18,000 schools have already put evidence-based strategies to improve school climate into action. Through executive action, the administration proposes a new $50 million initiative to help 8,000 more schools train teachers and staff to implement these strategies.
Resources For Youth Who Witness Violence
To help schools break the cycle of violence, the administration will urge Congress to provide $25 million to offer students mental health services for trauma or anxiety, conflict resolution programs and other school-based violence prevention initiatives.
Incentives For Schools To Hire Resource Officers
Under Obama's executive action, the Department of Justice will provide an incentive for police departments that hire officers through COPS Hiring Grants by providing a preference for grant applications that support school resource officers.
Close Background Check Loopholes
The Department of Justice will invest $20 million in FY2013 to give states stronger incentives to share information with the background check system. President Obama signed executive action requiring federal agencies to make crucial records available to the background check system and also to ensure that such records are frequently updated.
Boost Gun Owner Accountability & Responsibility
President Obama signed an executive action reaffirming his respect for the Second Amendment, but acknowledging that the right to bear arms comes with a responsibility to safely store guns to prevent them from being accidentally or intentionally used to harm others.
Serious Punishment For Gun Trafficking
Today, guns can be purchased easily from unlicensed dealers or from "straw purchasers" who pass the required background check, but give the guns to criminals. The Obama administration will include an explicit law against straw purchasing and others who traffic guns, including prosecutions for paperwork violations.
15,000 Cops On The Street
The Obama administration recognizes that it is crucial to keep more officers within communities and neighborhoods in order to prevent gun violence. The president calls on Congress to put forth a $4 billion proposal to help keep 15,000 police officers on the streets across the country.
Assault Weapons Ban
The federal assault weapons ban that was in place from 1994 to 2004 was a first step, but President Obama acknowledged that manufacturers were able to circumvent the prohibition with cosmetic modifications to their weapons. Obama is pressing Congress to introduce legislation reinstating and expanding the ban to include all assault weapons.
High-Capacity Magazine Ban
President Obama will urge Congress to reinstate the prohibition on ammunition magazines holding more than 10 rounds. Shooters at Virginia Tech, Tucson, Ariz., Aurora, Colo., Oak Creek, Wis. and Newtown, Conn. all used magazines that had a capacity of more than 10 rounds, which come standard with many handguns and rifles.
Remove ATF Restrictions
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) is required to authorize the importation of dangerous antique weapons that are at least 50 years old. Obama will press Congress to remove restrictions and enable the ATF to ensure that incoming weapons are actually acquired as collectibles and not for putting the weapons in the wrong hands.
Broader Access To Reports On Lost & Stolen Guns
Under Obama's executive action, the Department of Justice plans to publish an annual report on lost and stolen guns to ensure data collected by the ATF is available.
Protect Doctors Who Talk About Guns
Some have erroneously claimed that language in the Affordable Care Act prohibits doctors from asking patients about guns and gun safety. According to Obama's executive action, the administration will issue guidance clarifying this misconception and reiterating the importance of protecting doctors who have discussions on safe storage of firearms, especially if their patients show signs of certain mental illnesses, have young children or have a mentally ill family member at home.
Promote Responsible Gun Ownership
As declared by Obama's executive action, the administration will encourage gun owners to take responsibility for keeping their guns safe through a national campaign promoting common-sense gun safety measures.
Enhance Gun Tracing Data
Law enforcement can trace a gun's path from it's manufacturer, the dealer who sold it and its first purchaser. However, not all federal law enforcement agencies require a trace on guns they recover and keep in custody. President Obama signed executive action requiring a trace on <em>all</em> firearms.
Promote Safe Gun Safety Technology
The president is directing the attorney general through executive action to work with technology experts to review emerging gun safety technology that helps guard against unauthorized access and use.
$150 Million For In-School Resources
The Obama administration is urging Congress to take up a Comprehensive School Safety program that will offer $150 million to school districts and law enforcement agencies to hire resource officers, school psychologists, social workers and counselors. The Department of Justice will also develop a model for schools that use resource officers, including age-appropriate methods for working with students.
Change School Discipline Practices
Students who are suspended or expelled are far more likely to repeat a grade, not graduate or become involved in the juvenile justice system. The Obama administration believes effective school discipline policies are critical to addressing school and community crime and violence issues. Under Obama's executive action, the Department of Education will collect and execute best practices on school discipline policies and help schools implement these policies.
Mental Health Treatment For Youth
Through partnerships such as the newly proposed Project AWARE (Advancing Wellness and Resilience in Education), President Obama is urging Congress to take up a comprehensive plan to reach 750,000 young people through programs for early detection of mental illness and swift treatment. Project AWARE includes $15 million for training teachers and other adults who interact with youth to detect and respond to mental illness.
Clarify Mental Health Coverage In Private Insurance Plans
By executive action, Obama announced a plan to finalize regulations that would require group health plans offering mental health care to cover such services at parity under the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act of 2008. Additionally, the Affordable Care Act requires all new small group and individual plans to cover mental health and substance abuse services.
Mental Health Coverage For Medicaid Recipients
There is some evidence that Medicaid plans do not always meeting mental health parity requirements. In an executive action, the Obama administration issued a letter to state health officials insisting that these plans must comply with mental health parity requirements.