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July 15, 2013

Bill's aim: Flag mental illness on gun permits

A new proposal in the Massachusetts Legislature would require mental health professionals to report people who may be a danger to themselves or others into a state database to prevent them from obtaining a firearm.

State Rep. Linda Dean Campbell, D-Methuen, filed the legislation, which would require those health care providers to update, verify and remove the names on the list every year and would limit access to the list only to local police reviewing an application for a new or renewed firearms permit and to the commander of the state police.

Gun rights advocates and mental health groups last week did not take a stand on the proposal, but said it is a good place to start a conversation to address the sticky issue of identifying people with mental illnesses who should not have access to guns while still protecting privacy and Second Amendment rights, a national conversation sparked by the deadly school shooting in Newtown, Conn. in December.

Campbell said she participated in two hearings on the bill, one in Worcester last week and one on Cape Cod, and gathered input from people with a range of points of view.

“The two salient points on both sides were, let’s enforce the laws we have,” she said. “Felons caught in the act of a crime with a firearm are not receiving penalties in some cases. Cases are being dismissed. The other aspect is to figure out something else for additional tools to prevent those with serious mental illness from possessing a firearm.”

Campbell’s bill, which has seven co-sponsors, would create a database overseen by the Department of Criminal Justice to hold names flagged by mental health professionals. Those health providers, who in their professional opinion believe a person is a danger to himself or others, would report the name to the database and include a specific period of time for which the person should not have a firearm.

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