New evidence that the New York SAFE Act is an existential threat to the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding gun owners keeps surfacing. The latest example is a recent article in the New York Times which details all the shortcomings of the mental-health reporting aspect of the law that compels doctors, psychologists, nurses and social workers to notify state bureaucrats if someone appears to be a danger to themselves or others and, as a result, should be added to a database that would preclude them from obtaining a handgun permit or, if they currently own a handgun, would require law enforcement to seize the individual’s firearm.
As of right now, there are 34,500 names in the gun ban database. Many argue that this number is too high, that non-threatening gun owners are currently being added to the list. For quick reference, here are five reasons why it’s a disaster:
1. Defining “Dangerous”
According to the SAFE Act mental health professionals must turn over to state authorities the names of any patient “likely to engage in conduct that would result in serious harm to self or others.”
Yes, the intent of the law is good, right? We don’t want dangerous individuals to have access to firearms. But suppose one is at his therapist’s office and he is recounting a bad day he had at work. And he says, “You know Doctor, I was so angry that I felt like punching my co-worker right in the face. The guy (co-worker) was being a real turd. If he bothers me again, I might just punch him. I swear.”
Does this individual deserve to lose his Second Amendment rights because he was venting his frustration to his psychologist?
Under the letter of the law, one could argue that a mental health professional would be justified in submitting paperwork to have the man added to the gun ban list. But is that individual really dangerous is the question? Or is he just frustrated. As Sam Tsemberis, a former director of New York City’s involuntary hospitalization program for homeless and dangerous people, now the chief executive of Pathways to Housing, told the Times, “Assumed dangerousness is a far cry from actual dangerousness.”
It’s not easy to make that call nor should it be. And that’s why federal law mandates that one must be involuntarily committed or adjudicated mentally defective — as in, by a judge order — before one loses one’s 2A rights. But New York state is now forcing mental health professionals to make snap judgments that sacrifice personal liberty and freedom in the name of “public safety.”
2. Lack of due diligence
Before one is deprived of one’s constitutional rights, the state better be sure that it’s the right thing to do. But the review process the SAFE Act sets up for determining whether one is a threat is thoroughly deficient in that it creates a system where state officials basically rubber stamp submissions for the gun-ban list without doing their own independent investigation to determine whether the person is actually dangerous.
As Dr. Kenneth M. Glatt, a psychologist, who is the commissioner of mental hygiene for Dutchess County, told the Times, “Every so often I read one [submission] just to be sure, I am not going to second guess. I don’t see the patient. I don’t know the patient.”
In other words, state bureaucrats don’t even read the reports. Instead, they solely rely on the opinion of the counselor or social worker or physician without doing any serious follow up, i.e. contacting and interviewing the patient to make an independent determination if the patient is a credible threat.
“The threshold for reporting is so low that it essentially advertises that psychiatrists are mandatory reporters for anybody who expresses any kind of dangerousness,” said Dr. Mark J. Russ, director of acute care psychiatry at Zucker Hillside Hospital in Glen Oaks, Queens, which has filed many reports to the state.
The New York Times put it better than I could:
“Despite the breadth of the law, significant loopholes remain. Outside of New York City, permits are not required to buy long guns, so nothing would stop someone in the database from buying a shotgun, for example, after being released from a hospital. Also, it is unclear exactly how the process for confiscating someone’s guns is enforced. And law enforcement officials may not even be aware of all of the guns someone owns.”
Yes, this law is rife with loopholes to the point where even supporters of it have to question its efficacy.
4. Wrongful Confiscation
Yes, bad or dangerous people shouldn’t be allowed to possess firearms. And yes, police should take firearms away from bad and dangerous people. But the way this mental health reporting measure works, police will in some cases be confiscating firearms from innocent individuals.
In fact, it’s already happened. As the Las Vegas Review-Journal noted in an excellent editorial on the matter:
“Back in April, Mr. [David] Lewis, a 35-year-old Amherst resident, was ordered to surrender his weapons to police because he had once been prescribed anti-anxiety medication, which a health care worker considered reportable under the provisions of the SAFE Act. A week later, a state judge ruled Mr. Lewis’ guns had to be returned to him after state police admitted a mistake had been made.
“Mr. Lewis’ ordeal illustrates the injustice inherent in the law’s application. Not only are the Second and 14th Amendment rights of law-abiding citizens being trampled — taking property without due process — but the law further stigmatizes the mentally ill and mental health treatment. Not all mentally ill people are dangerous, and those who would benefit from treatment might think twice if doing so would require them to forfeit their constitutional right to bear arms.”
While proponents of the law will argue that if it takes even one gun away from a bad guy then it’s worth it, I would argue the opposite, that if it even disarms one good guy than it is totally not worth it.
Watch video to learn more about Lewis’s story.
5. Legislation breeds more legislation
The SAFE Act is woefully misguided on all fronts. Its expanded ban on so-called ‘assault weapons,’ its retroactive ban on magazines that hold more than 10 rounds of ammunition and its mental health arm all do absolutely nothing to keep bad guys from getting firearms. It will not impact crime rates. It will not save lives. This is apparent to any reasonable person.
Yet, in the not too distant future state lawmakers will likely argue that the SAFE Act is not working because “It didn’t go far enough, therefore more laws are needed, such as universal gun registration or long gun permits, to fix the loopholes in the current SAFE Act” which is tantamount to doubling down on a failed idea: the notion that criminals follow the law, therefore the more laws that exist on the books, the more criminals will be held in check and unable to obtain firearms. It’s insanity really, doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.
Sadly, this is the slippery slope of the gun-control agenda. They want us to keep sacrificing our freedom, just a little more, a little more, a little more… until everyone’s unfit to own a firearm.