Chairman Thompson, Senator Blumenthal, Rep. Perlmutter Introduce Safer Communities Act of 2015

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Washington, DC, July 9, 2015 | comments

U.S. Rep. Mike Thompson (D-CA), chair of the House Gun Violence Prevention Task Force, Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), and Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-CO), vice-chair of the House Gun Violence Prevention Task Force today introduced the Safer Communities Act of 2015 (H.R. 2994), legislation aimed at reducing and preventing gun violence by keeping guns away from people who should not have them. The legislation closes the gaps in current federal gun policy by clarifying and expanding existing federal prohibitors as it relates to mental health, substance abuse, history of violence, and other risk factors; provides states with the tools needed to strengthen and enforce gun violence prevention laws; provides resources for mental health crisis intervention services; and improves records reporting into the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS).

“This bill puts policies in place that will help keep guns away from those we all agree shouldn’t have them,” said Thompson. “While those suffering from mental illness are far more likely to be victims than perpetrators of violent crimes, we must recognize that improving our mental health system, and keeping firearms from those with other risk factors such as a history of substance abuse disorders and violence, goes hand-in-hand with reducing and preventing gun violence. By improving intervention services, boosting evidence-based research, and giving our law enforcement officers more tools to get guns out of dangerous hands, we can make our country safer and get people the help they need, while also respecting the rights of law-abiding gun owners.”

“This bill includes an array of measures to address the unfortunate and too often lethal link between mental illness and firearms deaths” said Blumenthal.“By simultaneously improving mental health care and keeping guns out of the hands of those who would use them to harm themselves or others, this legislation takes an holistic approach to this serious issue. By expanding existing federal prohibitors on risk factors including mental health, substance abuse and history of violence, this bill gives states the tools they need to strengthen and enforce gun violence prevention laws and make our communities safer.”

“The Safer Communities Act is a common sense proposal reducing the likelihood of individuals suffering from mental illness the ability to access firearms,” said Perlmutter.“My focus is to do what we can to prevent future tragedies in our communities and schools. It’s important to keep guns away from individuals who pose a threat to themselves or others and instead provide them with the mental health tools and services they need.  This is one of many steps we can take to keep our communities safe and make gun violence less easy, less frequent and less deadly.”

The Safer Communities Act of 2015 clarifies and expands existing federal prohibitors to help keep guns away from those who are determined to pose a danger to themselves or others. Specifically, the legislation prohibits the purchase or possession of a firearm by individuals subject to involuntary outpatient commitment if a court finds they pose a significant and dangerous threat to themselves or others. Current federal law has been interpreted to apply only to inpatient commitments.

Recognizing that states play an important role in preventing gun violence and ensuring safe communities, the legislation provides states with the tools needed to strengthen and enforce gun violence prevention laws. Specifically, it further supports federal and state partnerships by providing grants to states to strengthen gun violence prevention laws that prohibit individuals with certain risk factors such as a history of dangerous mental illness, substance abuse, and violence from possessing firearms. For example, states could:

·   Create laws that enablelaw enforcement to petition for a warrant to temporarily remove firearms when there is probable cause to believe that an individual poses an imminent risk of harm to self or others. The process by which a warrant is obtained and a gun is removed must be consistent with due process; and

·  Create laws that temporarily prohibit the purchase and possession of a gun after an involuntary hospitalization on an emergency basis due to serious mental illness;

The legislation also requires the FBI to expand its current alert system so that state and local law enforcement can pursue cases where prohibited persons try to purchase guns – particularly those prohibited due to serious mental illness.

Thompson, Blumenthal and Perlmutter’s bill also provides resources for mental health crisis intervention services, boosts mental health research, enhances information sharing and research on gun violence, and improves the submission of mental health records into the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS), the database used to determine whether or not a prospective buyer is eligible to buy a firearm.

The bill changes the outdated and stigmatizing “mental defective” terminology currently used in federal firearms statute and replaces it with “ineligible due to disqualifying mental status.”

Finally, Safer Communities Act of 2015 establishes a minimum restoration standard, ensuring a fair restoration process of firearm ownership rights that balances public safety with individuals’ rights. One year after an individual’s involuntary commitment ends, they may petition the court to have their rights restored. The application must be accompanied by a clinical opinion of a psychiatrist, psychologist, or licensed mental health professional. After considering a variety of factors, the judge would determine if restoring gun ownership rights is compatible with the public interest.

Thompson’s task force included making improvements to our mental health system in their policy principles release in February 2013.

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