The Governors of New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, and Rhode Island have announced their formation of a new “States for Gun Safety” coalition. Through the Coalition, the four states plan to openly share information of persons prohibited from possessing firearms pursuant to their respective state laws using a centralized database. In addition, they intend to share details with each other about how firearms are trafficked into and sold within their respective states.
There are certain categories of persons who are prohibited by federal law from possessing firearms, including those convicted of a felony, misdemeanor crime of domestic violence, involuntarily committed to a mental institution or adjudicated mentally defective, etc. The states should already be reporting information on these persons to the federal government for purposes of adding their names to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (“NICS”). However, many states fail to properly report this information, as addressed in our prior blasts regarding the “Fix NICS Act.”
One of the purposes of the Coalition appears to be a desire to share information on persons who have sought treatment for mental health issues. In fact, New York Governor Cuomo has already stated that New York will share information from its mental health database (a database developed pursuant the New York State SAFE Act). The overwhelming majority of people who seek treatment for mental health issues are not a danger to themselves or others. As noted above, federal law does not restrict the sale to, or possession of, firearms by persons who are mentally ill, but rather only those that have been involuntarily committed to a mental institution, or adjudicated mentally defective. The actions of Connecticut, New Jersey, New York and Rhode Island in seeking to share information on persons who have been treated for mental health issues for the purpose of restricting their access to firearms could potentially implicate issues related to the Americans with Disabilities Act, and the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act. More importantly, it is likely to further stigmatize persons with mental illness and potentially discourage them from seeking treatment.
Nevertheless, Governor Cuomo emphasized that the focus of the Coalition will be on legislation restricting access to firearms for all persons, claiming that arguing that school shootings “is a mental health issue is a sham and a fraud.” He referenced the 1934 law which he incorrectly argued “outlawed machine guns” (it actually just imposed a transfer tax on them), and that “assault weapons” should also be outlawed. The Coalition also claims that banning bump stocks and increasing the age to purchase rifles and shotguns from 18 to 21 is just “political breadcrumbs.” Instead, they advocate doing “something real,” like the way in which the issue of firearm ownership “has been handled by countries across the globe.” The way other countries have handled this issue is through the registration of firearms owners, banning increasingly broad categories of firearms and, ultimately confiscating firearms from civilians who originally acquired them in full compliance with the law.
The coalition also plans to study how firearms are trafficked into the four states. It would appear to be a foregone conclusion that the results of this study will conclude that crime in these four states is caused by the less-restrictive firearm laws of other states.