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NY advises counselors on reporting under gun law

ALBANY -- New York mental health officials have contacted thousands of clinicians statewide about their responsibility for reporting potentially dangerous patients under the state's new gun law, resulting in reports on at least 30 patients in the first month.

The law requires reporting by doctors, psychologists, licensed clinical social workers and registered nurses to advise authorities. Since that provision took effect March 16, State Police say county officials have received 30 letters back about people whose gun licenses should be reviewed and possibly suspended or revoked. Officials didn't know Thursday how many licenses or guns were surrendered.

"With respect to initial reports made by mental health professionals, the reporting standard is 'likely to engage in conduct that will cause serious harm to self or others,' " the state Office of Mental Health said in its formal guidance. The agency's outreach to 432,000 mental health professionals included their professional associations, direct email to 3,381 clinicians, Web seminars and posting online both requirements and reporting forms.

"The law specifically provides that mental health professionals will not be subject to any civil or criminal liability of the professional's decision with respect to whether or not to report was made 'reasonably and in good faith,' " the agency said. There's an exception where a clinician believes reporting will heighten danger to potential victims or endanger themselves.

The guidelines for psychiatric and other types of hospitals say each shall designate a staff member to coordinate reporting. Federal patient privacy rules permit disclosing otherwise protected health information, without the patient's consent, when "required by law," the agency said.

The Cuomo administration pushed through the law after the December killing of 20 schoolchildren and six educators in Newtown, Conn. Police said a troubled 20-year-old with a semiautomatic rifle and high-capacity magazines killed them after slaying his mother and then killed himself. "It will save lives," Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said of the law in a radio interview Wednesday.

The National Rifle Association's New York affiliate regards many of the provisions as an imposition on the rights of about 4.75 million gun owners among New York's 19 million residents and is seeking a federal court injunction to block new restrictions on legal semiautomatic weapons and magazine loads. "The mental health provisions we're not touching," attorney Brian Stapleton said.

The New York Psychiatric Association remains concerned about the new reporting standard it has tried to change legislatively and some of the guidance from the Office of Mental Health, said Richard Gallo, the group's lobbyist. Most of the reports so far appear to have come from hospitals, and it's possible that none have come from private practitioners, he said.

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