N.Y. Gun Database Includes 34,500 Patients With Mental Illnesses

October 21, 2014 in News

A new database that tracks New York residents who have mental health issues and are deemed too unstable to purchase a gun includes about 34,500 names, the New York Times reports.

Background

New York lawmakers created the database in 2013 under the Safe Act, a gun control bill passed by state lawmakers shortly after the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., in 2012. 

The Times obtained information about the database after filing a Freedom of Information Act request.

Database Details

Under the law, mental health professionals are required to report to county officials any patient “likely to engage in conduct that would result in serious harm to self or others.” Mental health providers can include:

  • Nurses;
  • Physicians;
  • Psychologists; and
  • Social workers.

The state Division of Criminal Justice Services maintains the database. County officials are required to assess the reports and send the names of patients determined to be potentially dangerous to officials in Albany to be included in the database where data are stored for five years. Authorities are required to compare the information against gun permit records and, in the case of a match, revoke the gun permit and seize the guns belonging to the patient.

According to county officials, the majority of reports come from community hospitals that have emergency departments and inpatient psychiatric treatment. Few reports come from outpatient mental health clinics or private therapists.

Findings

According to the Times, 41,427 reports have been filed by mental health providers between March 16, 2013, when the reporting requirement took effect, and Oct. 3, 2014. Of those, county officials sent 40,678 reports to Albany for inclusion in the database. As of Oct. 18, the database had 42,900 reports, of which about 34,500 were unique individuals, according to the Times.

Overall, state authorities have found 278 matches between the database and gun permit records. At least one individual has challenged the revocation of a gun permit.

According to the Times, county officials have said they do not have the capacity to assess the potential danger of reported patients. They said that they receive roughly 500 reports per week.

Reaction

According to the Times, the large number of people included in the database has sparked debate among mental health professionals and gun control activists.

Brian Malte, senior national policy director of the Brady Campaign To Prevent Gun Violence, said that if the database helps remove a gun from just one dangerous person “that’s a good thing.”

Meanwhile, mental health advocates argue that the majority of patients with mental illnesses are not violent.

Mark Russ, director of acute care psychiatry at Zucker Hillside Hospital, said, “The threshold for reporting is so low that it essentially advertises that psychiatrists are mandatory reporters for anybody who expresses any kind of dangerousness.”

However, John Tauriello, deputy commissioner and counsel for the state’s Office of Mental Health, noted that New York’s mental health system includes 144,000 people admitted for treatment in 2012 to community hospitals and private or state-operated mental health institutions. “It sounds really reasonable if you know the size of the system,” he said (Hartocollis, New York Times, 10/18).

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