A strange group of political bedfellows on Capitol Hill are working overtime to get a bizarre bill to Joe Biden’s desk before the current session of Congress expires; legislation that would let people prohibit themselves from purchasing or possessing a firearm under federal law.
The measure was approved on party lines by the House Judiciary Committee, though it’s attracted the support of a handful of Republicans in the House, including co-sponsors John Curtis of Utah and Colorado’s Ken Buck. As we get into on today’s Bearing Arms’ Cam & Co, while there are some questions about how the bill might conflict with the existing language of the Gun Control Act of 1968, that’s far from the only objection raised by opponents.
“Do we really need a federal statue to permit a person to volunteer to give up their fundamental liberty?” asked Judiciary Committee ranking member Jim Jordan, R-Ohio. “That’s what this bill does.”
“Mental health is important, we all understand that, especially as it relates to suicide, but this … I mean, really? This is what we’re going to do?” Jordan asked.
“I think this again is just another attack from the Democrats on the Second Amendment,” he said.
Rep. Tom Massie, R-Ky., added that he is also worried that the bill might turn people into criminals if they give a firearm as a gift to someone who is on the list. During committee debate, Democrats said that is not the intent of the law and indicated an openness to fixing it later, but Republicans said the uncertainty on this issue is another reason not to support the bill.
I’m all in favor of addressing and trying to reduce suicide, but this bill isn’t the way to go about it. In fact, because it allows lawmakers to claim they’re “doing something” rather than address the very real crisis in our country’s mental health systems, I’d argue the legislation will do more harm than good.
Similar “do-not-sell” laws have been approved in recent years in Washington, Utah, and Virginia, and while we don’t have a ton of data to examine yet, the information that is available suggests the laws have had very little impact.
The Preventing Suicide Through Voluntary Firearm Purchase Delay Act mirrors an already existing Utah law that allows individuals to voluntarily restrict themselves from purchasing and possessing a firearm.
But according to Jacob Dunn, manager at the Utah Bureau of Criminal Identification, only five people in Utah have utilized the program since it was implemented in May 2021.While that number may seem small, Rep. Steve Eliason, R-Sandy who passed the Utah law, said,
“Maybe it saved five peoples lives.” He added he was encouraged to hear anyone was taking advantage of it.
Maybe it did. I doubt it, but you never know. I do know that Eliason’s law does jack squat to address the issues with Utah’s mental health network, which are not only impacting the ability for people with suicidal ideation to get help, but are even gumming up court cases and delaying justice for the victims of violent crimes.
As fall gave way to winter, Gwyther faced yet another holiday season without his husband, Dennis Rowley Gwyther.
“Being with Dennis was the first time that I felt like my life was 100% right,” Matt said.
Dennis has been gone since May of 2019. He was shot and killed while driving from Salt Lake to Idaho on Interstate 84.
Prosecutors in Box Elder County charged 48-year-old Jonathan Mendoza Llana with murder and filed a notice of intent to seek the death penalty.
But Matt says the case has slowed due to uncertainty surrounding Llana’s mental state. Llana was found incompetent to stand trial and ordered to undergo treatment at Utah’s State Hospital in an effort to restore his competency.
Over time, as Matt has anticipated and attended competency review hearings typically scheduled six months apart, his understanding of the term “swift justice” has changed.
“Swift is a matter of years,” he said, “not a matter of months or weeks.”
This year, three competency hearings in the case were either cancelled or continued due to delays in evaluation reports. The reports were either not yet finished or were not filed with the courts in time for review before the hearings.
Staffing is the number one challenge facing Utah’s State Hospital in Provo, according to superintendent Dallas Earnshaw.
“They’re not just not turning in their homework,” he said of the hospital’s forensic evaluators, “they’re turning in extra work constantly. And so being behind is not a symptom of not caring.”
According to data provided by Earnshaw, while staffing shortages are an issue, the hospital’s workload has simultaneously increased. They’ve seen a 22% increase in referrals from the courts for mental health evaluations since fiscal year 2020.
The hospital has had a hard time contracting, hiring, and retaining qualified evaluators.
“We’re not in this alone,” Earnshaw said. “This is something that’s impacted health care across the country.”
And because addressing these problems is neither simple nor cheap, many politicians choose to adopt soundbite solutions instead; focusing on the gun instead of the person in crisis, and declaring the problem solved when they can’t legally get ahold of one; either through the use of a “red flag” gun seizure order or the rare circumstance of someone prohibiting themselves from possessing a firearm.
We’re seeing the same thing where I live in Virginia. Democrats enacted both a “red flag” law and a voluntary “do-not-sell” list before they lost control of the governor’s office and the House of Delegates in 2021 instead of addressing our crumbling mental health system. We have individuals in crisis who are waiting for days, not hours, to be evaluated by mental health professionals, and law enforcement from county sheriffs to the state police have pleaded with lawmakers to take the problem seriously, but Democrats chose instead to pass new laws aimed at taking guns away instead of providing help and care.
In 2021, Virginia State Police called on the General Assembly to take action and expand mental health services, saying many suffering from mental health crises were ending up in local jails, which were totally unequipped to treat them.
That same year, mental health hospitals across Virginia were forced to close their doors to new patients amid rising admissions and chronic under-staffing.
Emergency departments have tried to make do, with two large hospitals in Virginia reportedly outfitting special “safe rooms” — rooms “stripped of anything a person can use to harm themselves with” that resemble “small one-car garages” — to house patients in the midst of metal health crises.
Meanwhile, according to the Virginia State Police a grand total of 24 Virginians had placed themselves on the “do-not-sell” list as of August of this year, with one person requesting to be removed.
That’s another issue altogether, by the way. It’s easy enough to place yourself on the list, but under the federal legislation you would have to get a mental health professional to sign off on your removal from the list if you ever want to lawfully purchase a firearm.
The Preventing Suicide Through Voluntary Firearm Purchase Delay Act may be legal (though even that is up for debate), but even if that’s the case that doesn’t make it effective. There are already truly voluntary (and wonderful) programs out there like Hold My Guns that work with firearms instructors, ranges, and gun stores to provide a place for gun owners to store their firearms for up to a year if they need to temporarily remove them from the home. We don’t need the government to try to poorly duplicate those efforts with a “do-not-sell” list.
“Doing something” isn’t enough, and this a do-something bill if I’ve ever seen one. We need our elected officials to suck it up and take on the literal life-or-death disaster in our mental health systems rather than blithely treating suicide as a problem that can be solved by going after guns.