Florida legislature: Bill aims to keep guns away from mentally ill

Associated PressMarch 29, 2013 

TALLAHASSEE -- An urban Democratic lawmaker and a powerful gun lobby cleared another hurdle Thursday in promoting legislation aimed at blocking the mentally ill from purchasing weapons in Florida.

The bill won approval from the Florida House Judiciary Committee with no dissent.

The bipartisan vote came after the unlikely alliance featuring state Rep. Barbara Watson and a National Rifle Association lobbyist said the proposal is needed to plug a loophole to guard against mentally unstable people getting their hands on firearms.

"If we can save one life, it is a significant bill," Watson, a Miami Gardens Democrat, said afterward.

Watson said she was spurred to pursue the bill by a case in Dade County in which a mentally unstable resident was found possessing 200 guns and thousands of rounds of ammunition.

"This is an important bill," Marion Hammer with the NRA told the committee. "It is essential to being able to ... keep people with mental illnesses from purchasing firearms."

The measure (HB 1355)is aimed at situations in which people with mental illnesses voluntarily commit themselves for treatment to avoid involuntary commitment, then quickly check themselves out of the facilities.

At that point, they are able to obtain weapons, the bill's supporters said.

Under the bill, someone who is mentally ill could be prohibited from purchasing firearms if the examining physician found that the person posed a danger to himself or others. If the patient didn't agree to be voluntarily committed for treatment, an involuntary commitment petition would be filed.

Patients who voluntarily committed themselves would do so with the understanding that they would be barred from purchasing firearms.

If such patients refused to give up their gun-purchasing rights, the involuntary commitment process would proceed.

The bill includes a pathway for those who are committed to file a court petition seeking to regain their gun-purchasing rights. Their case would have to be backed by a doctor who agrees that they should regain the right.

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