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Mental Health Reform Advocates Worry That Obama’s Gun Focus Could Hurt Them


The Republican response to more gun control has been to seek better mental-health services to catch disturbed shooters who shouldn't have access to guns. The renewed focus on gun control by President Obama may just exacerbate tensions on mental-health efforts that advocates hoped would gain momentum this year, the Washington Post reports. Republicans do not welcome Obama's gun-control proposals; they favor a plan to boost mental-health spending by $500 million. They worry that the hyper-partisan gun-control debate could hurt their cause. “This bill is not a gun issue, it's a mental-health issue,” said Rep. Tim Murphy (R-PA) of his bill, which seeks to unite federal mental-health programs under one office, expand treatment services and better enable commitment procedures to target the most severe cases. “I think it diminishes its importance to say this is the counterpoint to gun control. It's not.”

There are competing versions of mental-health reform in Congress, some more closely linked to gun control than others. All of the proposals have been pulled into the stormy debate over gun control. “We have seen consistently that an underlying cause of these attacks has been mental illness, and we should look at ways to address this problem,” said House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI). Murphy's bill has dozens of Democratic co-sponsors, despite disputes over how the bill handles the delicate issues of patient privacy and involuntary commitments. Mental health advocates have been slightly more welcoming of bill from Sens. Bill Cassidy (R-LA) and Chris Murphy (D-CT) that tweaks Tim Murphy's proposal. A competing set of mental-health bills from Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) and Rep. Martha McSally (R-AZ) focus on the intersection of mental health and gun control. Democratic leaders oppose Cornyn's proposal, which he says would improve the ability of background checks to keep guns out of the hands of the mentally ill. Democrats say it would weaken the background check system.

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