New York News
5:49 pm
Thu March 7, 2013

Amid gun debate, mentally ill see unfair vilification

Second Amendment rights advocates, who have held rallies in Albany recently, are not the only group upset with portions of the state’s recently enacted gun law.  Some people with mental illnesses believe the law unfairly stigmatizes them. Capitol Correspondent Karen DeWitt reports.

In recent weeks, hundreds of pro-gun rights protesters have held boisterous rallies against New York’s strictest in the nation gun laws.

But another group that also has some problems with the new law came to the capitol for a very different sort of protest.

About 100 people who have been diagnosed with mental illness sat silently at a budget hearing on the state’s mental health budget to protest provisions in the law that they say unfairly “stigmatize” them.

Harvey Rosenthal is with New York Association of Psychiatric Rehabilitation Services, and a long time advocate for rights for the mentally ill .

“The environment of criminalization and demonization of people with mental illnesses has really reached a peak here in Albany,” Rosenthal said. “I’ve never seen it like this."

Rosenthal and others  are upset over provisions in the new gun law that require therapists and other clinicians to report patients to a state centralized database  if they might be a threat to themselves or others. Authorities would then take away the person’s guns.  Rosenthal says the new law could damage trust between patients in treatment and their therapists.

“It makes people not want to share or go to therapy,” he said, “And that’s the exact opposite of what we should be trying to do right now.”

And he worries that the information won’t be limited  to a gun owners data base but could be inappropriately shared  with law enforcement or other agencies. 

Amy Colesante, with the Mental Health Empowerment Project, also attended the hearing. She and many of the protesters wore tee shirts that said “You are talking about me.”

“People can’t be making laws based on emotion instead but fact, and there’s research to prove we aren’t any more dangerous than the general population,” Colesante said. “Our, human, civil and constitutional rights are being taken away.”

Rosenthal says it’s unfortunate that the Newtown shootings and other acts of mass gun violence have caused a crackdown on the mentally ill, who are statistically 12 times more likely to be the victims of a violent crime than a perpetrator.

Colesante says the governor and state legislature acted too hastily, without considering the full effects of all the provisions they put into the law.

“This is a knee-jerk reaction,” Colesante said. “This is a reaction to wanting to be the first state to do something. In doing so you are not considering the rights of a whole group of people who deserve to be treated as equals.”

Governor Cuomo and legislative leaders are considering technical amendments to the gun control law, but most of the ideas have centered on correcting errors made when banning various types of magazine clips for multiple bullets.

They are not at this point considering changes to mental health portions of the law.