Nevada Legislature ponders best gun policy for ill

By By MATT WOOLBRIGHT

CARSON CITY, Nev. (AP) — Nevada legislators have intensified their focus on gun violence as the subject dominates national discussion after dozens of people were killed in December at a Connecticut elementary school.

The Senate Committee on Health and Human Services heard from a panel of experts Thursday on the relationship between mental illness and gun violence. No bills or budgets were introduced; the intent was to broaden the senators' understanding of the issue, said Sen. Justin Jones, D-Las Vegas and the committee's chairman.

There is no single approach to dealing with the issue, but rather a need for policy concerning the people, the guns and culture, Administrator Richard Whitley of the Nevada State Health Division told senators.

According to Bunchie Tyler of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, however, there is one way to reduce the risks: Don't let those suffering from mental illness ever own a gun.

"It's the safest thing, because you never know," Tyler told reporters after the meeting. "You never know when one of us is going to go off with a supposedly normal brain, so imagine when you already know somebody has an illness or propensity to go off. You don't want them to have a gun ready."

Tyler said her opinion is based on living with her schizophrenic husband for more than 30 years.

"My husband's working, he's never been violent, but I don't have guns in my house," she said.

Under the current law, if someone is committed to a state hospital, they are placed on the National Instant Criminal Background Check System registry and not allowed to purchase a firearm. However, many people diagnosed with a mental illness are not barred from buying firearms, Sen. Ben Kieckhefer, R-Reno, said Friday.

"You have a law that says people who are committed to a psychiatric hospital should be prohibited from buying a firearm, but then we have the reality that very few people are actually being committed to a psychiatric hospital," he said.

The way it works is a person is subjected to a 72-hour hold to determine if there is a mental illness. Of that group, about 38 percent are determined to have a mental illness and pose a danger to self or society. The case is then petitioned to a court, where a judge can dismiss the case, continue the hold for more treatment or commit the person to the mental institution.

Only those actually committed to the hospital by the judge are placed on the registry and prohibited from buying firearms.

"These are people who are in the midst of an acute episode of mental illness and the idea that they can walk out the door and purchase a firearm immediately doesn't make sense to me," Kieckhefer said. During fiscal year 2012, no one in Washoe County was committed to the state mental hospital, he added.

Kieckhefer plans to introduce a bill that would place all individuals petitioned to the court on the registry, but full details of the bill weren't available.

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