Critics: Mental health law focus unfair

Feb. 1, 2013 at 11:33 AM
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WASHINGTON, Feb. 1 (UPI) -- Critics say the rush to focus on mental illness laws to reduce gun violence in the United States unfairly singles out people with serious mental health issues.

Legislation to revise existing mental health laws is under consideration in at least six states, while in Washington President Obama has ordered "a national dialogue" on mental health and several bills addressing mental health issues are circulating on Capitol Hill.

Critics, however, said this focus targets people with serious mental illness, citing studies indicating only about 4 percent of violent crimes are committed by persons with mental illness, The New York Times reported Thursday.

Critics also said people with mental illness are 11 or more times likely than the general population to be victims of violent crime.

And because many proposals were rushed to introduction, they likely wouldn't fix the broken mental health system, some experts told the Times.

"Good intentions without thought make for bad laws, and I think we have a risk of that," said J. Reid Meloy, a forensic psychologist and clinical professor at the University of California in San Diego. Meloy has studied rampage killers.

Others told the Times the push for additional mental health laws is politically expedient because such measures are unlikely to involve a confrontation with the powerful National Rifle Association as would proposals to ban semiautomatic weapons or high-capacity magazines.

"The NRA is far more formidable as a political foe than the advocacy groups for the mentally ill," said Dr. Jeffrey A. Lieberman, chairman of psychiatry at Columbia University and president-elect of the American Psychiatric Association.

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