NRA-backed bill closes loophole allowing mentally ill to buy gunsby Dara Kam | March 19th, 2013
Lawmakers are trying to close a loophole that allows individuals who have been declared an imminent danger to themselves or others to purchase firearms.
The measure – the only one of a slew of proposals sponsored by Democrats that has the blessing of the National Rifle Association – addresses a “huge gap in the law,” Miami-Dade County Judge Steven Leifman told the House Criminal Justice Committee this morning before its unanimous passage.
Under current Florida law, only mentally ill individuals who have been deemed an imminent danger and who have been involuntarily committed to treatment after being Baker Acted are added to a national database prohibiting them from purchasing guns.
But just a fraction – about one percent – of the 115,000 Baker Acts in Florida last year resulted in involuntary commitment. The other 99 percent of mentally ill individuals voluntarily submitted to treatment, meaning they could purchase guns as soon as they are out of the hospital.
“It makes no sense now that if you’ve been declared by two doctors that you are an imminent danger to yourself or others, why should you be able to go out and purchase a gun? If you’re suicidal, it’s an insanity. It’s just a horror waiting to happen,” Judge Leifman, who served as the Florida Supreme Court’s advisor on Criminal Justice and Mental Health.
Closing the loophole may prevent tragedies such as yesterday’s suicide at the University of Central Florida this week, Leifman said. Police say UCF dropout James Oliver Seevakumaran, who was found dead in his room, planned an attack before killing himself.
“These things don’t just happen. People have histories of depression. They have histories of mental illnesses. And when they get to the point where they’re imminently a danger to themselves or others, I think it behooves all of us to prohibit people at that point from purchasing the gun,” Leifman said.
NRA lobbyist Marion Hammer said the bill was necessary.
“People with mental illnesses who are determined to be a danger to self or others are scamming the system. Many of them have been Baker Acted five, 10, 20 times. They never get into the system to prevent them from purchasing a firearm,” Hammer said.