Congress passes first major gun safety bill in decades

Every day, an average of 64 Americans die by gun suicide, according to the Educational Fund to Stop Gun Violence. As of July 17, there have been 354 mass shootings in the United States this year, according to Gun Violence Archive.

Most Americans, including many gun owners, support basic measures to prevent gun violence, says Marc Manseau, MD, MPH. These include universal background checks, safe storage requirements and a ban on assault weapons.

Advocates have voiced the need for gun safety policies for decades, but few such policies have been enacted and gun violence has become a mainstream aspect of American life. In June, following several tragic mass shootings, including the shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, Congress passed the bipartisan Safer Communities Act. President Joe Biden signed it into law on June 25.

The legislation is the first major federal piece of legislation to address gun violence since the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act was passed in 1994, said Marc Manseau, MD, MPH, co-founder of Psychiatrists for Gun Violence Prevention and assistant clinical professor in the Department of Psychiatry at NYU Grossman School of Medicine.

“It’s a small step in the right direction and therefore a victory,” he said. “However, we must recognize that this is a small step indeed, and so we must not be lulled into complacency and inaction just because it has passed,” he said. he continued.

In a press release, the APA outlined key provisions included in the package it advocated for, including the following:

  • $750 million in grants to states to create, implement and improve Extreme Risk Protection Orders (ERPOs), also known as Red Flag laws.

  • Additional background checks for gun buyers under 21, including consideration of juvenile criminal records.

  • $250 million in funding for community-based violence prevention initiatives.

“This is remarkable and major bipartisan legislation,” said Rebecca Capasso, MD, Membership Coordinator for Psychiatrists for Gun Violence Prevention and Clinical Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychiatry at NYU Grossman School of Medicine. . “I don’t think there’s a way forward in this country without compromising and working together in the political aisle.”

The package also includes many provisions that support mental health programs. In the statement, APA stressed that it is inaccurate to link mental illness to violence.

Photo: Rebecca Capasso, MD

Some psychiatrists are very hesitant to discuss guns with their patients, says Rebecca Capasso, MD.

“I am very concerned that the legislation expands access to mental health care, as it promotes the false narrative that attributes gun violence to people with mental illness,” Capasso said. “We know that’s blatantly untrue” (“Mental illness is too often wrongly associated with gun violence”).

Capasso explained that the urge to link gun violence to mental illness may be rooted in the unease people feel about the complexity of violence. “People end up leaning towards the very simplistic answer of ‘This person must be mentally ill’, rather than addressing the multiple factors, including access to firearms, that better explain why the violence occurs. “, she said.

Mental health provisions included in the bipartisan Safer Communities Act include the following:

  • Nearly $8 billion for the Medicaid Certified Community Behavioral Health Clinics program.

  • $150 million to states to support the implementation of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline’s new three-digit dialing code, 988, to improve crisis response and prevention programs.

  • $500 million to the School Mental Health Services Program through Medicaid to increase the number of trained mental health professionals in schools.

  • $250 million to states through the Community Mental Health Services Block Grant.

  • $80 million for the Pediatric Mental Health Care Access Grant Program.

  • $60 million for mental health training for primary care clinicians.

  • Assistance to States on how to increase access to telehealth services, among others.

Funding for mental health through legislation is potentially lifesaving, APA President Rebecca Brendel, MD, JD said in the press release, because more than half of gun deaths are suicides.

“We view this as the first step in a process that must continue,” APA CEO and Medical Director Saul Levin, MD, MPA, said in the statement.

Manseau pointed to the recent Supreme Court decision in New York State Rifles and Pistols Association vs. Bruen, which struck down a New York law that limited when someone could carry a gun outside the home. “It’s very clear that we still have a lot of work to do,” he said.

“The fact is, we have more guns per capita than most other countries in the world, with the exception of war-torn countries like Yemen, and that’s going to cause the United States to have rates much higher rates of gun violence, including suicides and homicides, than almost any other country,” Manseau said. “Until we address this fact and the politics around it, we We’re not going to solve our gun violence problem.” ■

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