Closing a 'gap' in gun laws

Jose Peralta

April 19, 2011

Legislative Gazette

A gun control bill was passed by the Assembly last Wednesday that is aimed at closing a loophole in the courts' ability to prevent people who are ordered to undergo treatment for mental illness from possessing a firearm. 

Bill A.3081/S.670 which was introduced by Assemblywoman Donna Lupardo, D-Endwell and Sen. Jose Peralta, D-Queens, is one of eight bills the Assembly passed to commemorate National Crime Victims' Rights Week. The bill would give courts the power to confiscate or seize firearms and revoke permits and licenses in the event someone is found to be mentally ill and court ordered to confinement or treatment. 

"There is a gap in the law," said Lupardo "A couple of years ago we passed a bill that hooked New York state up to the instant background check program, so that someone who has gone through a court order preceding can no longer purchase a weapon but we had no way of guaranteeing that a person in this category would have to surrender their weapons." 

The bill would not apply to all court proceedings concerning mental illness but it would give the courts the power to take such action if they deem it necessary. A spokesman for Lupardo likened the bill to Kendra's Law which gives the courts the ability to force mentally ill people to take their medication in an extreme situation. 

The assemblywoman said she got involved in gun control measures following a 2009 shooting in Binghamton when gunman Jiverly Wong opened fire in the American Civic Association office, which offers immigrant services, killing 13 people and wounding four. 

The current bill "would not have prevented that particular crime because the individual had not been ordered to involuntary treatment or to mental hospitalization or deemed incapacitated. But … if that individual had come across the mental heath radar screen he would have had to surrender all those weapons," said Lupardo "We are just trying to address some piece of this that seems to be a gap in our judicial process." 

The bill passed the Assembly 140-2 and is currently in the Senate Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities Committee. The bill was passed last session in the Assembly as well but died in the Senate Codes Committee. 

One of those no votes was cast by Assemblywoman Nancy Calhoun, R-Blooming Grove, who said she could not support the bill because there was not a clear mechanism for people to have their gun rights restored if they are deemed ready. Calhoun said she is especially concerned about veteran's rights. 

"I am concerned about people with post traumatic stress disorder in the military when they come home. If that person has any treatment in a mental facility they would never be able to go hunting again," said Calhoun. "I in no way want someone who is dangerous or mentally disturbed to have a firearm," the assemblywoman said, but adding she would have supported the bill if there were a clear mechanism for people to have their gun privileges restored.