Mental health professionals concerned with new gun law

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ALBANY -- Some mental health professionals said Wednesday that New York's 1-day-old comprehensive gun bill has some potentially troubling provisions for them.

The New York Psychiatric Association said the gun-control law has a mandatory reporting provision that could discourage a mental health professional from contacting police immediately if he or she fears a patient is likely to harm themselves or others.

Under the law, a wide range of therapists -- from physicians to nurses to social workers -- must report potentially dangerous patients to county health officials. Locals could then contact state officials who would check the new gun database to determine whether the patient had a licensed weapon and decide whether to revoke the license and take the firearms away.

For some professionals, that seems like an extra step -- and seems to mandate calling the county first, instead of police.

"It seems more reasonable for a physician to contact the police to go to the patient's house," said Seth Stein, executive director of the New York Psychiatric Association.

Mental health professionals traditionally contact law enforcement directly when they believe patients pose an imminent threat to themselves or anyone else, he said.

But the new law does not include the word "imminent," leaving it up to the therapist to determine the potential timing of when the threat might be carried out, Stein said.

A spokesman for Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo disputed Stein's reading of the law.

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"This procedure does nothing to preclude the reporting of an imminent danger," Cuomo spokesman Rich Azzopardi said.

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan) was not immediately available. A spokesman for Senate co-leader Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre) declined to comment.

Assemb. Felix Ortiz (D-Brooklyn), who helped author the new law, said he was open to speaking to mental health professionals about possible amendments. The mental health provision takes effect in 60 days.

Under a law previously approved, doctors who work at hospitals licensed by the state may -- but are not required -- to report patients who make threats, Stein said.

"We said that the bill should permit, but not mandate, reporting; the report should be triggered by a conclusion of serious and imminent danger to self and to others," he said.

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Others warned that the new law has other holes.

Judith L. Ritterman, executive director of the New York Mental Health Counselors Association, said the omission of psychoanalysts, and marriage and family therapists in the law could undermine its effectiveness.

"That means that the thousands of clients for whom we provide treatment would be left out of the provisions in the law as we are not required to report potential suicidal or homicidal clients," she said.

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