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Nev. bill targets mental health, background checks

Published on NewsOK Modified: March 7, 2013 at 7:10 pm •  Published: March 7, 2013
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CARSON CITY, Nev. (AP) — A bill requiring universal background checks to purchase a firearm and faster reporting of people suffering with mental illness into a federal database was introduced Thursday in the Nevada Senate, the same day Congress began debate on bills restricting firearms.

SB221, sponsored by Sen. Justin Jones, D-Las Vegas, and four other lawmakers, is the first of several bills expected this session dealing with the issue of guns and mental health in the wake of several mass shootings in the United States.

The measure seeks to require universal background checks for ownership transfer of a firearm, unless the person acquiring the weapon has a concealed weapons permit.

It also would require courts to forward to the state central repository information on anyone involuntarily committed or found mentally incompetent to stand trial within five days. The same would hold true for people acquitted by reason of insanity or who enter a plea of guilty but mentally ill.

"It's a step in the right direction," Jones said of his bill. "We've got to do something and I'm open to further discussion.

"We have to get it right," he said.

Jones said he was moved to pursue legislation following the December massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., that left 20 children and six adults dead.

Closer to home, Jones said Eduardo Sencion, a diagnosed schizophrenic who stormed an IHOP restaurant in Carson City in 2011 and killed four people, was never involuntarily committed, though his family told police he was diagnosed in 1999 and feared demons were after him in the months before the shootings.

Sencion, 32, killed himself after the deadly rampage that also wounded seven.

Jones said it currently takes about 45 days for mental health information to be processed and put into the Central Repository for Nevada Records of Criminal History.

Another provision of the bill imposes a "duty to warn" on psychiatrists or psychologists. Under the measure, they would have to notify law enforcement of anyone deemed likely to harm themselves or others.

According to Jones, Nevada is one of four states that do not have a law requiring mental health experts to notify law enforcement notification when they believe someone poses a danger.

The bill also lifts medical confidentiality in such cases, and prohibits someone deemed to be a danger from possessing a gun for six months. Violations would be a category D felony, subject to a penalty of one to four years in prison and a $5,000 fine.

People barred from having a gun after being labeled a threat could petition a court to lift the six-month restriction.

Other bills are anticipated in the coming days. Sen. Ben Kieckhefer, R-Reno, has been working on a measure to include in the gun registry anyone who's been named in a petition for involuntary commitment, regardless if they are hospitalized against their will.

Kieckhefer said court-ordered, involuntary commitments in Nevada are low, even though patients are often hospitalized for weeks during the judicial process. Under existing law, unless a court signs an involuntary commitment, that person's name is not included in the registry.

His proposal would allow someone to regain their right to buy a gun after three years.