FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: January 9, 2013
Contact: Tom Staudter | ThomasS@westchesterlegislators.com | 914-995-2819 (office) | 914-815-4462 (cell)
Westchester Legislators Discover Gaps in Mental Health Reporting to Gun Licensing Agents
White Plains, NY – Members of the Westchester County Board of Legislators (BOL) discovered during testimony given at the BOL Community Services Committee meeting yesterday by Dr. Grant Mitchell, Commissioner of Westchester County’s Department of Community Mental Health, that troubling gaps exist in mental health reporting to gun licensing agents around the county, and that there is a lack of guidance and information regarding the reporting requirements for gun licensing in regard to people suffering from mental illness.
In the wake of last month’s tragic shootings in Newtown, Connecticut, the Democratic members of the BOL decided to assess the County’s mental health services in regard to gun licensing laws. Many experts have said part of the solution to prevent future mass shootings exists at the level of community health services. Two years ago, Westchester closed its community mental health clinics, and legislators are still concerned how the transfer of patients and clients to various not-for-profit agencies has fared.
Yesterday, those concerns were heightened when Dr. Mitchell admitted to the BOL committee members that he was not sure whether the various not-for-profit agencies and organizations contracted to provide mental health services for Westchester County were reporting information to gun licensing agents, as required by law.
New York State licensing laws relating to firearms asks that “records of the appropriate office of the department of mental hygiene concerning previous or present mental illness of the applicant shall be available for inspection by the investigating officer of the police authority.”
But if state law requires gun licensing agents to perform an investigation regarding the mental health of an applicant, it is important to know where the agents are getting their information from in Westchester, and how much information is appropriate or necessary to issue a license for those suffering “from past or present mental illness.” Faced with these questions, Dr. Mitchell said he would look into furnishing the BOL committee members with the answers as soon as possible.
“A this point, we should make sure that our mental health service providers fully understand what their reporting responsibilities are in accordance to gun licensing laws, and that they are carrying out these responsibilities as best as possible,” said Legislator Alfreda Williams (D-Greenburgh), chair of the BOL’s Community Services Committee. “Individuals suffering from mental illness who pose risks to themselves and others need to be identified and denied gun licensing privileges to help ensure the safety of our residents.”
Legislator Williams and other Community Services Committee members commended Dr. Mitchell for his department’s school-based mental health programs, which have added 34 new sites over the past two years, thanks to the County’s funding of Early Step Forward programs. But serious problems can arise when young people adults with mental health issues leave school or age out of a mental health system.
Future Community Services Committee meetings will take up gun licensing issues with public safety officials to learn more about licensing procedures in regard to mental illness and whether all the information necessary is being furnished to the courts. Also, Williams suggested that her committee look into gun safety certification in Westchester, a requirement for all gun licensing applications, and whether mental health questions are also addressed in this process.
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