Mental Illness & Guns - Making Changes (Part 6) - 47 ABC - Delmarva's Choice

Mental Illness & Guns - Making Changes (Part 6)

WMDT 47 NEWS - Wicomico County Sheriff, Mike Lewis, admits he and his deputies handle mental illness cases quite often.

"We deal with this on a daily basis." explains Lewis. "This is something that we've been dealing with and struggling with for years because most of the time when we take them to the hospital to be evaluated, most of the time, they are released. And we know we're going to go back to that location again."

But the Sheriff tells WMDT, current HIPAA laws, which protect confidential patient information, makes keeping track of concerning individuals next to impossible. "These individuals who are being treated today for mental illness, and get released and are discharged, they can leave that hospital and go here to Gander Mountain or any gun store and make application for a handgun. And what they were just treated for days, institutionalized for days, they're not required to release that information when they're purchasing a handgun."

Which is why, right now, the Maryland General Assembly is considering new legislation, based on the findings of a state created task force, which could require mental health professionals to report patients who make threats of suicide or violence.

If passed, law enforcement could potentially use this information to investigate and seize guns the patients own.

But mental health professionals worry the required reporting could rob psychiatrists of the discretion key to doing their jobs and endanger their relationships with patients.     

"I think that's a very controversial and complex topic," states Linda Raines with mental health advocacy group, Maryland Mental Health Coalition. "and obviously as a society it's always difficult to balance individual rights, civil liberties with public safety. In general, our position on things like that is that people with mental illness should have the civil rights as any other citizen."

But there is consensus on one point. Threats of violence against others should not be ignored.

Even President Barack Obama made it clear that there is no federal law preventing psychiatrists from reporting threats.

The task force, collecting information for Governor Martin O'Malley in Maryland, will release their final report by May. And law makers have already said they plan to file legislation once they receive those findings.

"The release and dissemination of this information is something that truly needs to be re-evaluated," agrees Lewis, "especially in light of the recent events that have occurred."

The next meeting of the Task Force to Study Access of Mentally Ill Individuals to Regulated Firearms will be held from 9:00-11:00 AM on February 22, 2013 in Room 218, Lowe House Office Building, in Annapolis.

There are so many varying opinions on the topic of Mental Illness and how it should be handled in the interest of public safety. And this is far from the end of the discussion.

We welcome you to leave your thoughts on this series here on our website and Facebook page.

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