The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA


January 26, 2013

Mental health concerns cloud gun control effort in Maryland


O'Malley's package is far less stringent on mental health than laws recently passed in New York, another liberal-leaning state. There, Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, and the legislature agreed to require mental health professionals to inform authorities when they believe a patient is dangerous.

But even though a task force on mental health appointed by Maryland's General Assembly recommended that the state pass a similar measure, the O'Malley administration decided against it, citing concerns about patient privacy.

Joshua Sharfstein, state secretary of health and mental hygiene, defended the decision, saying it was rooted in the best advice of mental health professionals, who say that the vast majority of people with mental illnesses are not violent.

"We're trying to balance the importance of protecting people with the importance of the therapeutic relationship," Sharfstein said. "If you have a very, very broad definition of reporting, it becomes very hard for people to seek help. That can create dangerousness and unintended consequences on the other side."

Still, Simmons, the state delegate, said he will introduce a bill similar to what the task force suggested, focusing on mandatory reporting of the mentally ill who appear to have a clear and present intent to commit violence against others, but not those who threaten suicide.

While it may not go as far as some would like, O'Malley's proposal, which has been endorsed by the state's psychiatric foundation and some prominent researchers, does have some measures that deal with mental health issues.

It would add two new categories of residents who would be disallowed from purchasing firearms: those who no longer have power over their own legal decision-making because of mental illness, cognitive decline, disability or other reasons; and those who have been involuntarily committed and who a judge determines are a danger.

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