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NY gun control: Mental health advocates to air complaints about new law

Gun enthusiasts look at various firearms on the

Gun enthusiasts look at various firearms on the floor at the National Rifle Association's annual meetings and exhibits in St. Louis. (April 14, 2012) Photo Credit: Getty Images

Psychiatrists, psychologists and civil rights advocates are slated to air their grievances with Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's gun reforms at a New York Senate hearing on Friday.

The hearing -- to be conducted by the Senate's Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities Committee hearing in New York City -- comes almost two weeks after Newsday reported that Hudson Valley mental health professionals have given state officials about 350 names of individuals they consider dangerous and worth investigating under provisions of the new law.

"This hearing is a real opportunity to ensure that we are providing the right balance between public safety and patient confidentiality under criteria associated with the NYSAFE Act," said Sen. David Carlucci (D-Clarkstown), the committee's chairman, in a statement.

Under the law, mental health professionals must notify county mental health departments about patients who could be a danger to themselves or to others. County officials forward the names to Albany, where officials determine whether the individuals possess gun permits. Permit holders' names then go to county courts, where judges decide whether to revoke their permits.

Mental health professionals are concerned that the reporting provisions of the law may violate patient-doctor confidentiality, compromise treatment, in cases, and discourage individuals from seeking help.

"You are going to have an unintended effect of stigmatizing people and discouraging them from either seeking out treatment or fully disclosing in that treatment," said Harvey Rosenthal, executive director of the New York Association of Psychiatric Rehabilitation Services.

Rosenthal said representatives of his group expect to testify before Carlucci's committee.

Carlucci's spokesman, Jason Elan, said the senator's office has received substantial input from mental health groups asking for changes to the bill. Elan mentioned that county and state officials have had to cope with the bureaucratic burden of vetting reports and forwarding names without extra funding.

The senator hoped the committee hearing would form a basis for potential changes to the legislation.

"It is my hope we can use this testimony to streamline the overall process and give confidence to those who treat mental illness on a daily basis," Carlucci said in his statement.

Rosenthal said he supports legislation sponsored by Assemb. J. Gary Pretlow (D-Yonkers) to narrow the criteria for reporting patients to state officials.

Laws on the books for many years obligate psychologists, psychiatrists and others to consider alerting authorities or hospitalizing patients who might pose a danger to themselves or others, Rosenthal said.

He said he is worried that the scope of the NYSAFE Act could lead doctors to report patients more out of fear of legal liability than fear the patients will actually hurt someone. He said he was surprised when he read Newsday's story about 350 names reported in the Hudson Valley alone.

"When I saw that number, it again made me wonder if we are in a political climate of overreporting," Rosenthal said.

Cuomo lobbied heavily for the landmark NYSAFE Act, which was enacted in January, around a month after the Newtown massacre in Connecticut. While minor changes to the law have been enacted, the governor has resisted substantial changes.

"The Office of Mental Health worked with the mental health community during the implementation of this critically important section of the SAFE Act and will continue to work with them to ensure that guns do not find their way into the hands of potentially dangerous individuals," said Ben Rosen, spokesperson for the New York State Office of Mental Health.

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