NYPR: MH Advocates Protest Some Provisions of Gun Law

Mental Health Advocates Protest Some Provisions of Gun Law

ByKaren DeWittNYS Public Radio/WNYC News Blog March 7, 2013

Second amendment rights advocates, who have held rallies in Albany recently, are not the only group upset with portions of the state’s recently-enacted gun law. Some people with mental illnesses believe the law unfairly stigmatizes them.

About 100 people who have been diagnosed with mental illnesses sat silently at a budget hearing on the state’s mental health budget to protest provisions in the law that they say unfairly stigmatize them.

Harvey Rosenthal is with New York Association of Psychiatric Rehabilitation Services, and a long time advocate for rights for the mentally ill.

“The environment of criminalization and demonization of people with mental illnesses has really reached a peak here in Albany,” Rosenthal said. “I’ve never seen it like this."

Rosenthal and others are upset over provisions in the new gun law that require therapists and other clinicians to report patients to a state centralized database if they might be a threat to themselves or others. Authorities would then take away the person’s guns. Rosenthal said the new law could damage trust between patients in treatment and their therapists.

“It makes people not want to share or go to therapy,” he said, “and that’s the exact opposite of what we should be trying to do right now.”

And he worries that the information won’t be limited to a gun owner's database, but could be inappropriately shared with law enforcement or other agencies.

Amy Colesante, with the Mental Health Empowerment Project, also attended the hearing. She and many of the protesters wore t-shirts that said "You are talking about me."

“People can’t be making laws based on emotion instead but fact, and there’s research to prove we aren’t any more dangerous than the general population,” Colesante said. “Our, human, civil and constitutional rights are being taken away.”

Rosenthal said it’s unfortunate that the Newtown shootings and other acts of mass gun violence have caused a crackdown on the mentally ill. He said they are statistically twelve times more likely to be the victims of a violent crime than a perpetrator.

Colesante said the governor and state legislature acted too hastily, without considering the full effects of all the provisions they put into the law.

“This is a knee jerk reaction,” Colesante said. “This is a reaction to wanting to be the first state to do something. In doing so you are not considering the rights of a whole group of people who deserve to be treated as equals.”

Governor Cuomo and legislative leaders are considering technical amendments to the gun control law, but most of the ideas have centered on changing the amount of rounds allowed in a magazine.

At this point, they are not considering changes to mental health portions of the law.