Mental illness and gun violence; What two former law enforcement officers turned lawmakers say can help

07/13/2014 11:12 PM

Two former law enforcement officers turned lawmakers see the need to focus on the intersection between gun violence and mental illness — even if they don’t fully agree on what route to take.

In Arizona one state legislator’s move to grant police more discretion to detain individuals based on accounts of dangerous or mentally unstable behavior has gained national attention.

State Rep. John Kavanagh, a Republican, crafted legislation which increases Arizona police officers access to mental health records and is meant to increase communication between law enforcement and mental health workers to keep guns out of the hands of the mentally ill.

Kavanagh recently spoke with Pure Politics on the legislation which he said initially had some push back.

“The first year I ran this it wouldn’t pass was because this is one of those unusual bills when you get people on the left and the right who have concerns,” Kavanaugh said. “People on the right begin to worry about police indiscriminately using this to lock people up who they don’t like…and then on the left any time you give police a kind of subjective right to take people into custody they begin to worry about racial profiling and discrimination.”

Kavanaugh, a retired New York Port Authority officer, said there was a disconnect between mental health records and the federal database in his state which in turn was allowing gun dealers to grant access weapons to those who shouldn’t have them.

“The main problem is getting the information about people who, because of mental health, are prohibited possessors of guns…from the courts to the gun dealers,” Kavanaugh said.

But a Kentucky legislator said he’s not sure that Kavanaugh has the right approach in his legislation which was signed into law in Arizona.

“I think you’re going down a slippery slope,” Rep. Denny Butler, D-Louisville, told Pure Politics.

Butler, a retired Louisville homicide detective, said police currently have the use of mental inquest warrants — which he said could be fast tracked if there is a perceived threat — rather than granting police records or allow police broader discretion.

While he says the warrant is enough, Butler said, the issues of mental health, addictions, and violence all share a connection and need to be addressed in Kentucky.

“I think having a good open debate with all the sides present to where here’s the issue, and how can we work as a group — as a society to solve these issues rather than I’m pro-gun, I’m anti-gun,” Butler said.

While the lawmakers differ in how to combat the problem of gun violence and enforcement, Butler said the end game is the same — to keep people safe.

“Nobody wants a gun in the hands of someone who is going to do harm with it,” Butler said.


Subscribe to email updates.

Subscribe and get the latest political intelligence delivered to your inbox.