Why NY Law On Reporting Potentially Violent Patients is Unlikely to Work


States aren’t likely to prevent many shootings by requiring mental health professionals to report potentially violent patients, psychiatrists and psychologists tell NPR. The approach is part of new New York state gun control law, but it’s unlikely to work because assessing the risk of violent behavior is difficult, error-prone, and not something most mental health professionals are trained to do, specialists say. “We’re not likely to catch very many potentially violent people” with laws like the one in New York, says psychology Prof. Barry Rosenfeld of Fordham University.

The New York law says mental health professionals must report people they consider likely to do harm. It also gives law enforcement officials the power to take guns from these people. Such laws “cast a very large net that will probably restrict a lot of people’s behavior unnecessarily,” Rosenfeld says. “Maybe we’ll prevent an incident or two,” he says. “But there are other ways that would be more productive.” A study of experienced psychiatrists found that they were wrong about which patients would become violent about 30 percent of the time. That’s a much higher error rate than with most medical tests, says Alan Teo, a psychiatrist at the University of Michigan and an author of the study.

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