Bill hastens curbing gun rights for the mentally ill
April 11, 2013
A Nevada state senator who supports a Republican-backed gun bill said buying a gun is not a fundamental right and due process might need to be sacrificed if it means keeping guns away from people who are dangerously mentally ill.
Sen. Tick Segerblom, D-Las Vegas, said Tuesday that gun rights are less important than some other rights such as liberty and freedom of speech.
"Different rights require different levels of due process," Segerblom told The Associated Press.
For example, he said, there does not need to be as much due process in taking away someone's gun rights as there should be for taking their liberty by sending them to prison.
The comments came as Sen. Ben Kieckhefer, R-Reno, presented SB277 to the Senate Committee on Health and Human Services. A vote is expected today.
Current law prohibits people who are involuntarily committed to the state mental health system from purchasing firearms. But Kieckhefer says the law is not working as intended because it can take weeks or months before a judge signs a commitment order — if it is ever signed.
"The law doesn't reflect the reality of how the judicial and mental health systems interact," Kieckhefer said.
His bill would require faster reporting to prevent gun purchases once a petition seeking involuntary commitment is filed.
"We're only restricting people who we don't believe can be responsible gun owners," he said.
Under the proposed law, gun rights would be reinstated if a judge rules a commitment petition lacks cause; and after three years someone who had their rights taken away could petition the court to get them back.
Typically, after a 72-hour mental evaluation, a detained person will be discharged; voluntarily agree to enter the mental health system; or refuse aid before a psychiatrist petitions the court to commit the person against their will.
After that petition, the defendant can still flip to a voluntary commitment and not have their rights affected.
Court psychiatrists petitioned northern Nevada courts to commit 583 persons to the system in 2012, but not a single commitment occurred, Kieckhefer added. In Southern Nevada, about 10 percent of the petitions led to commitments for treatment in 2012, he said.
Dennis Johnson, a Carson City resident, told the committee about his brother who killed himself after a mental episode about 25 years ago. Before his brother's death, Johnson had called authorities to prevent him from being able to purchase a firearm.
"Something snaps, and when that snaps you have to do whatever you can to prevent that person from getting a firearm," he said.
Opponents of the measure said it violates people's right to due process and doesn't allow defendants to challenge the decision.
After the hearing, Kieckhefer told the AP that he was working on conceptual amendments with opponents to address their concerns.
The deadline for bills to clear committee is at the end of the week.