Is Tennessee's law on mental illness and gun control effective?

Is Tennessee's law on mental illness and gun control effective?

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"Whenever you have an event like this or Colorado there's a natural reaction of lawmakers to try to do something to make sure that whatever the problem was doesn't happen again," said Ben Harrington. "Whenever you have an event like this or Colorado there's a natural reaction of lawmakers to try to do something to make sure that whatever the problem was doesn't happen again," said Ben Harrington.
Chief David Rausch says lawmakers are working this session to fix the law, which he believes is a valuable tool in protecting the public. Chief David Rausch says lawmakers are working this session to fix the law, which he believes is a valuable tool in protecting the public.
"The fact is the people who are in treatment are least apt to act up. It's those who aren't getting services they need. They are at most risk," said Dr. Joshua Williams. "The fact is the people who are in treatment are least apt to act up. It's those who aren't getting services they need. They are at most risk," said Dr. Joshua Williams.

By GENE PATTERSON
6 News Anchor/Reporter

KNOXVILLE (WATE) - Gov. Bill Haslam signed into law last April Public Chapter 300. The measure was enacted in the aftermath of the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.

It was an effort by lawmakers to keep guns out of the hands of the mentally ill.

Now nearly a year later, are we or our children any safer because of this law?

Since the murders at Sandy Hook Elementary School, a lot has been done in an effort to make our schools safer: new security protocols, more locks and video cameras and armed guards.

Tightening security is only one element in dealing with the problem of the mentally ill and guns. 

PC 300 expanded the obligations of mental health professionals in reporting patients they felt were a danger to themselves or others.

"Originally it was a law that if folks had been involuntarily committed to a state hospital, reporting their names to the court so that they could then get them entered into a state or national database for preventing them from purchasing firearms," said Ben Harrington with Mental Health Association of East Tennessee.

The new law expanded the reporting of individuals to law enforcement and shortened the time for reporting from three months to three days.

"Whenever you have an event like this or Colorado there's a natural reaction of lawmakers to try to do something to make sure that whatever the problem was doesn't happen again," said Harrington.

PC 300 was the Tennessee General Assembly's reaction, but now nearly a year later, there is confusion about the law.

"We're not sure that when we report to the state they report to the feds that we're not double counting the incidents, and so that's something that we're working on as well as the specific way to report has been a little confusing," said Knoxville Police Chief David Rausch.

Chief Rausch says lawmakers are working this session to fix the law, which he believes is a valuable tool in protecting the public.

"I think its highly valuable. We've seen the incidents in our country where folks with mental health issues have made threats and stated those threats to mental health professionals and they are not sure what to do with that information and they sit on it. And then we see these incidents," said Rausch.

Not everyone is convinced.  Psychologist Dr. Joshua Williams says the reporting requirement ignores a sad fact.

"The fact is the people who are in treatment are least apt to act up. It's those who aren't getting services they need. They are at most risk," said Dr. Williams.

In other words, it's those individuals who are falling through the cracks and not getting treatment who may pose the most danger to society and nobody is reporting them.

"Which means most people with mental health issues are not violent, or scary or dangerous," said Harrington.

Some are, however, and keeping weapons away from them is goal one. Is PC 300 the answer, or do we need stricter gun control measures?

Dr. Williams believes it's much more complex.

"There is no quick fix to this. This is stuff that starts in the third grade or younger on forward. If we had better prenatal care, we'd have less violence. This has been shown over and over again. But it does cost money and it's the long view and therefore we're not likely to do it," said Dr. Williams.

In this year's budget, more state dollars are being targeted for health and social service programs, but is it enough to begin changing the dynamics of violence?

Mental health experts hope it at least begins the process. As for changes to Public Chapter 300, we'll keep you posted.

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