Mental health experts say a new tougher New York state gun control law might interfere with treatment of potentially dangerous people and even discourage them from seeking help.
The law would require therapists, doctors, nurses and social workers to tell government authorities if they believe a patient is likely to harm himself or others. That could lead to revoking the patient’s gun permit and seizing any guns.
In interviews Tuesday, one expert called the new law meaningless and said he expects mental health providers to ignore it, while others said they worry about its impact on patients.
Dr. Paul Appelbaum at Columbia University said the prospect of being reported to local mental health authorities and maybe the police might discourage people from revealing thoughts of harm to a therapist, or even from seeking treatment at all.
“The people who arguably most need to be in treatment and most need to feel free to talk about these disturbing impulses, may be the ones we make least likely to do so,” said the director of law, ethics and psychiatry at Columbia. “They will either simply not come, or not report the thoughts that they have.”
He also noted that in many mass shootings in the past, the gunman had not been under treatment and so would not have been deterred by a law like the proposed measure.
Dr. Steven Dubovsky, chairman of the psychiatry department at the University at Buffalo, called the new measure meaningless. “It’s pure political posturing” and a deceptive attempt to reassure the public, he said.
The intent seems to be to turn mental health professionals into detectives and policemen, he said, but “no patient is going to tell you anything if they think you’re going to report them.”
Rushed legislation is invariably bad legislation, you say? Yeah, yeah, yeah. But at least Cuomo did something.