(1-16-17) Twenty four days after President Barack Obama signed into law what was billed as the most major mental health reform bill in decades, a gunman pulled a semi-automatic pistol from his checked luggage in the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport and began shooting, murdering five and injuring six others.
It is fair to ask if any of the reforms in the mental health bills that were merged into the 21st Century Cures Act would have stopped Esteban Santiago-Ruiz from committing murder.
Sadly, I believe the answer is no.
Yes, the Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act, the Mental Health and Safe Communities Act, and the Mental Health Reform Act, included promising initiatives. The bills call for better law enforcement training, more support for early identification and intervention programs, greater use of Assertive Community Treatment, more peer provided services, additional funds for community mental health programs and for continued funding for Assisted Outpatient Treatment.
Having police officers who have been Crisis Intervention Team trained can intercede and stop violence, having peers available to help persons with mental illnesses who encounter the police can help stop violence, access to better services can stop violence, and outpatient treatment can stop violence.
But none of these programs can make a difference if the person who is sick either doesn’t believe he/she is ill or rejects help. Whether by persuasion or coercion, there is no legal way in America today to stop a mentally distributed individual from buying or owning a gun unless they are or have been ruled a danger to themselves or others, or previously hospitalized.