DENVER (AP) – A proposal to study possible firearm restrictions on the mentally ill and those with substance abuse problems in Colorado advanced Tuesday, a measure prompted by the case of the suspect in the Aurora movie theater massacre, who had been seeing a psychiatrist before the shootings.
The bill to create a task force to look at what restrictions, if any, are needed passed a House committee on a 6-5 party-line vote with Republicans opposed. Lawmakers who opposed the measure and witnesses who testified against it worried that a task force would stigmatize people suffering from mental health issues and that they would be discouraged from seeking help.
The bill still needs to be considered by the full House, if it passes another committee.
Denver Democratic Rep. Beth McCann, the measure’s sponsor, says she wants to have a discussion on how to address gun violence, but she has no predetermined outcome from the task force.
“I have no hidden agenda. I have no expectation of how this will come out,” McCann said.
The task force would be bipartisan and include lawmakers, mental health professionals, and gun experts. The group would issue a report to legislators by January 2015 with any recommendations.
“While a task force conducting a study would seem harmless, we believe this study will only lead to more unnecessary gun control,” said Joe Neville, political director for the Rocky Mountain Gun Owners.
Rep. Amy Stephens, R-Monument, said that while the discussion McCann wants to have is valid, she worries about the direction the panel may take.
“There’ll be some sort of legislation coming out of these things, and you know I just am deeply concerned about it,” she said.
The County Sheriffs of Colorado and the Colorado Association of Chiefs of Police spoke in favor of the bill.
Rep. Dianne Primavera, D-Broomfield, said she had “mixed emotions because of the stigma issue.”
“My heart goes out to people with mental illness, but I also know we have to do something about gun violence,” she said before voting in favor of the bill.
McCann says she introduced the bill because the suspect in last year’s movie theater massacre had been seeing a psychiatrist before the shooting, and his attorneys have claimed he’s mentally ill. Court documents have revealed that a month a before the shootings, the psychiatrist who treated James Holmes warned campus police at the University of Colorado, Denver that he was dangerous and had homicidal thoughts.
Also Tuesday, the full Senate gave initial approval to a bill that expands mental health services in Colorado, creating a “coordinated behavioral health crisis response system.” Among other things, it would establish walk-in and mobile crisis services, and 24-hour crisis telephone services. The measure still needs a final Senate vote.
Gov. John Hickenlooper and state mental health leaders called for the initiative in December, and lawmakers have set aside about $19.7 million in the next budget year to implement.
The governor’s office and health officials began discussions on plans to increase mental health services within days of the July theater shootings.
LINK: Read The Bill
– By Ivan Moreno, AP Writer
(© Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)