DFL Sen. Ron Latz joined Hennepin County Sheriff Rich Stanek, the Minnesota Sheriffs’ Association, Hennepin County Judge Jay Quam and other officials Wednesday in a push for stronger measures aimed at keeping guns out of the hands of the mentally ill.
“The confluence of mental health issues and dangerous products, like guns, in particular, is very unnerving,” said Latz—whose district includes Golden Valley, Hopkins, Plymouth and St. Louis Park, where the family of slain Accent Signage owner Reuven Rahamim lives. “And we need to focus on solutions like are being proposed here so that we can all be safer and so that the people who are victims of their own mental illnesses can also then be prevented from victimizing others in other more dangerous ways.
Latz, who’s chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said competency hearings and judicial oversight of the process are needed to ensure people get the treatment they need.
“These folks often don’t even have the insight that they have a mental illness—and so they resist the treatment,” Latz said.
The group is discussing five potential reforms, according to a Sheriff’s Office news release:
- Improve the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (“NICS”). NICS is a national database of records on persons who may be disqualified from owning or purchasing firearms; the system is only as complete and timely as the information provided by each of the respective 50 states (participation is voluntary). Minnesota’s Bureau of Criminal Apprehension manages and maintains Minnesota’s NICS system information; Minnesota should ensure that all felony and drug convictions and mental health court orders and other disqualifying gun ownership records are sent to the BCA in an electronic format within 24 hours, and entered immediately into NICS.
- Law Enforcement Access to Mental Health Records. Law enforcement officers and correctional and detention professionals should have ready access to critical (and already public) mental health court records --in responding to 911 calls, in performing background checks, and for booking and housing arrestees -- but we do not have the information-sharing systems we need.
- Improve the procedures for inmate competency (Rule 20.01) and civil commitment (MN Stat. 253B) evaluations and treatment. Inmates who have been referred for a Rule 20 hearing are evaluated for their mental competency to stand trial; if there is a commitment hearing, there must be a separate evaluation, and the intervening period can take weeks or months. These evaluations could be combined in appropriate cases, and additional treatment options could be made available for restoring competency, which would return defendants back to criminal court more quickly. Improving the procedures will reduce the time a defendant with mental illness spends in jail without adequate mental health treatment.
- Review Minnesota’s Civil Commitment Law. Under current Minnesota law, Courts may only order mental health treatment when an individual has been determined by law to be a danger to themselves or others, which is a very high threshold. Minnesota should review and consider this legal standard and compare to the “need-for-treatment” standards adopted in 27 other states. A thorough review would include consideration and protection of the subject’s constitutional and privacy rights, as well as access to services for family members of the mentally ill who seek care for their loved ones before they may become a danger to themselves or others.
- Assess the in-patient and out-patient psychiatric resources available to serve the mentally ill in Minnesota, including those in the criminal justice system. Consider the settings and programs in between the hospital and a person's own home, as well as services such as Assertive Community Treatment (ACT) that help people with serious mental illnesses remain healthy and independent in their own homes. Ensuring adequate community-based resources will help solve other related problems. In particular, once a court of law has determined that an individual is incompetent to stand trial, he/she should be moved out of the Jail setting immediately, and into an adequate care and treatment environment; we do not want to criminalize mental illness. Once a court has stayed or dismissed criminal charges due to mental illness, there is questionable legal authority or justification for any individual to be held in pre-adjudication detention.
The bipartisan group of policy makers is pushing for a discussion on the proposals. Latz said earlier this month that gun control legislation would have to wait until the Legislature had agreed on the state’s budget.