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July 4, 2015

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Report mental illnesses to block firearm sales

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As a father of two young children, I was deeply disturbed by the tragic and senseless shootings a few months ago in Newtown, Conn. Unfortunately, it took these shootings to force a discussion about the state of mental health in this country. I know from personal experience in my own family that mental illness is a very serious issue and one that has touched many families in our community. It has been exacerbated here in Nevada through drastic cuts in social services.

Recently, the state Senate’s Health and Human Services Committee heard testimony from law enforcement officials and mental health experts about the state of mental health and access to firearms in Nevada. Simply put, these experts from the law enforcement and mental health communities believe it is far too easy in our state for those with significant mental illnesses to acquire firearms. More alarmingly, those who have been committed to institutions to be treated for mental illnesses rarely have those commitments reported to background check registries. This is a dangerous combination that puts those with mental illness and the community at risk.

We saw here in Nevada firsthand the deadly consequences from this gap in reporting those who are being treated for serious mental illnesses. On Sept. 6, 2011, Eduardo Sencion walked into an IHOP in Carson City and fired 60 rounds of ammunition in 27 seconds from a modified automatic weapon, killing four patrons, including three Nevada National Guardsmen, and seriously wounding several others.

Sencion was diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic at age 18 and was committed to a mental health facility several times. After the IHOP shooting, police recovered several guns at the scene and several more weapons and ammunition at his house. Reports show that Sencion purchased guns from licensed firearms dealers, as well as from private parties. Each time Sencion purchased firearms from a licensed dealer, an FBI background check was run. But because he was never involuntarily committed to a hospital for psychiatric treatment by a court, his name was never entered into the National Instant Criminal Background Check System. And no background check was required under current law for his private-party gun purchases. Common sense and hindsight tell us that someone who has been committed multiple times for mental health issues shouldn’t own guns.

Pure and simple: we need to fix this now. That is why I am introducing legislation this week to address glaring holes in Nevada’s reporting of mental illness and improve the background checks that are already required.

This legislation is not aimed at stigmatizing those suffering from mental illnesses. In fact, studies show that the mentally ill are far more likely to be victims of a crime than to commit one.

This common sense legislation will improve collaboration among mental health professionals and law enforcement, fix gaps in our system that currently allow people with severe mental illnesses to legally purchase firearms, and, by implementing universal background checks, close loopholes that would allow a man like Eduardo Sencion to purchase firearms.

This isn’t about taking away the rights of responsible gun owners. This is about making sure only those who are legally allowed to purchase firearms are able to do so. This is about improving the system we have by making sure that a background check is performed for every gun sale — nothing more, nothing less.

As a father, I believe we have a responsibility to work together to make our community safer. To do that, we have to make sure we aren’t selling guns to individuals whom our mental health professionals have found to be a danger to themselves or others.

Our responsibility is to protect those who cannot protect themselves.

State Sen. Justin Jones, D-Las Vegas, represents District 9 in the southwest Las Vegas Valley.

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  1. Definitely need this bill passed. Over the years, I have had neighbors, family, and friends, who were institutionalized with mental illness, and believe me, the last thing any of them need is access to firearms.

    Thank you, State Senator Justin Jones, for bringing attention to this.

    Blessings and Peace,

  2. I agree with the Senator and the commenters here. This is a bill that must be passed into law. Thank you Mr. Jones and all your peers who support the bill.


  3. I haven't found any reference to a "modified automatic weapon" in that indecent, those were reported to be Ak-47 semiautomatic rifles. If you know something unreported that we don't please let us know.
    I do agree with author that need need to improve the way we report Mental illness.

  4. Sounds like a common sense approach to prevent a mentally ill person from legally obtaining firearms.

  5. I hate to be a wet blanket, but Mr. Jones demonstrates how this legislation will not work by his own conflicting comments in this article. He starts of saying someone who was committed was not put into the database. He contradicts himself later, "But because he was never involuntarily committed to a hospital for psychiatric treatment by a court, his name was never entered into the National Instant Criminal Background Check System." Was he committed or wasn't he? If the standard is anything but adjudication (of some sort), then how can it do anything but stigmatize mentally ill people more than they already are? I do not say that the system needs to involve a judge. If the requirement is some sort of determination after contact with mental health system, then why not make that contact for treatment? Mr. Jones proposal does not say anything about treatment. Why conflate the issue of mental health with gun violence at all?

    Furthermore. While I applaud Mr. Jones for bringing some attention to the treatment of mental illness, I must also throw brickbats with the roses. For he himself admits this is not the main issue in controlling gun violence, "In fact, studies show that the mentally ill are far more likely to be victims of a crime than to commit one.
    In closing, the proposal does not deal with the most pressing issue in mental illness ( a lack of treatment options) nor the major cause of gun violence (guns).

  6. The statement that "In fact, studies show that the mentally ill are far more likely to be victims of a crime than to commit one." is a red herring.

    That is true of any segment of the population for all intents and purposes. The simple truth of the matter is that when such a person does lose control the results are unpredictable other than to say they will be tragic.

    As much as it pains me to say so, I think that a person's medical history needs to be part of the background check for gun sales. How many ads do we see everyday for prescription medicines that carry warnings about suicidal or violent thoughts? These warnings are not only on anti-depressants, but for Chantix!

    I would not go so far as to say that any history of such medication should bar someone from owning a weapon, but current or recent use should be considered.

    There has been concern over drugs such as these being linked to violent acts for a very long time now, basically since they first came on the market. My wife and I both feel that many of these drugs are over-prescribed simply because they are being marketed directly to the public.

    If a person is dependent upon a drug such as Prozac then I can't avoid thinking that they have no business having access to any kind of weapon. The risk is simply too great.