In a refreshing bit of bipartisan cooperation, Gov. Rick Scott has signed a sensible gun control measure born from an odd coupling between a Democratic state lawmaker and the National Rifle Association.
The bill tightens existing rules that bar the violently mentally ill from buying guns, a priority evoked by conservatives and liberals alike in the wake of last year’s school massacre in Newtown, Conn. The measure shouldn’t have drawn any controversy, but gun rights groups to the political right of the NRA incited thousands of people to ask Gov. Scott to veto it. Fortunately, the governor rejected those baseless requests.
People who have been declared mentally ill by a judge are already banned from buying or possessing firearms under state and federal law. But the vast majority of people taken in and given long-term mental health treatment never make it onto the federal do-not-sell list.
The reason: Most people accept treatment voluntarily, meaning that they are never required to see a judge. Thus, they technically are never “adjudicated” mentally ill.
This is a senseless loophole, and HB 1355 will end it. Backers say that under the new law, judges can sign off on patients’ voluntary decisions to seek treatment. This makes them technically “adjudicated,” allowing them to be entered into the federal do-not-sell database.
Over time this will save lives. Under the current system, experts estimate that just a small percentage of people receiving treatment for mental health issues actually make it into the database, which gun stores across the country use to conduct mandatory background checks.
The vast majority of the mentally ill are not violent, but putting more of those with serious illnesses into the database means a greater chance of preventing a firearm from falling into the wrong hands. For proof of the importance of this, look no further than Jupiter, where in 2009 Paul Michael Merhige shot and killed four family relatives during a Thanksgiving gathering.
As the Post reported, Merhige should not have been able to purchase the weapon used in the massacre because of earlier involuntary commitments to mental health facilities. But at the time he was committed, Florida had not yet begun to report that information to the federal government.
In signing the bill last week, Gov. Scott wrote that “reasonable parameters on firearms purchases must be set forth in state law to ensure public safety.” This is the sort of clear-eyed approach that has been so lacking at the national level, where even in the wake of the Newtown massacre Congress was unable to agree on modest new gun safety measures.
Bipartisan cooperation like the effort behind HB 1355 should be the norm in gun safety efforts. Sadly, it is the exception.
for The Post Editorial Board