Just a day after hundreds of gun rights advocates rallied in Albany against Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s new gun-control law, others affected by the strictest-in-the-nation regulations weighed in with objections of their own at a hearing Wednesday in Buffalo.
And many of those objecting probably don’t own guns.
Mental health advocates expressed concern over the legislation’s less publicized provisions, such as requiring doctors and counselors to report potentially violent clients to the state. That’s a serious breach of doctor-patient confidentiality, they said.
“This was very hastily prepared and not robustly considered legislation as it could have been from many dimensions,” said Kenneth P. Houseknecht, executive director of the Erie County Mental Health Association.
Beyond that, he said, too many fingers are pointed at the mentally ill, following tragedies at Newtown, Conn., and elsewhere where gun violence has taken lives.
“We have to stop associating violence with mental illness,” Houseknecht said. “This is the most insidious stereotype we perpetuate.”
Houseknecht and others testified at a hearing convened by Assemblywoman Jane L. Corwin of Clarence and Sen. Patrick M. Gallivan of Elma. Both are Republicans who voted against the Cuomo bill last month. They were joined by other Republican and Democratic legislators who voted against the bill.
Though the legislators heard from critics such as Sheriff Timothy B. Howard who reiterated Second Amendment concerns, the testimony by Houseknecht and others took a different tack.
He pointed out that 1 in 4 Americans and about 250,000 people in Erie County deal with mental health issues, while only 4 percent of violent crimes are attributed to the mentally ill.
The NY SAFE Act, he added, may actually discourage people with mental problems from seeking treatment because of new requirements for health professionals to report potentially violent clients.
He also quoted extensively from an opinion article published Wednesday in The Buffalo News by Dr. Steven L. Dubovsky, chairman of psychiatry at the University at Buffalo School of Medicine, who echoed the same arguments.
Mental health provisions of the new law should have been considered separately, Houseknecht said.
“Unfortunately, when you put [separate aspects] of the bill together, there are unintended consequences,” he said. “You ‘disincent’ people who need help and impair the patient-professional relationship in ways that were not fully thought out before passage of this law.”
The panel also heard from Peter Faustino of Westchester County, immediate past president of the National Association of School Psychologists. He called for increased access to mental health and support services for the 1 in 5 adolescents with mental health disorders.
He also said cuts in Medicaid have resulted in fewer services for at-risk students.
Erie County Clerk Christopher L. Jacobs registered his objections to the law, also veering from familiar Second Amendment issues. But he did emphasize that county residents could now encounter a significant waiting period for pistol permits to be approved.
Fears over the new law’s consequences have produced a quadrupling of permit applications in his office, he said, and relicensing and Freedom of Information Law requests will put undue burdens on county clerks across the state.
“This new state law imposes a significant cost on the local taxpayers – the definition of an unfunded mandate,” he said.
“Or alternatively, the workload becomes so unmanageable that it becomes essentially impossible for a law-abiding citizens to obtain a pistol permit within a reasonable period of time – thus, a direct infringement on a constitutional right.”
Wendy J. Roberson, Niagara County deputy clerk, added that the waiting period for approval of pistol permits could extend from the current four months to between six and 12 months.
“Either the cost of government will increase or the efficiency of government will decrease,” she said.
Howard repeated the objections he has sounded in recent weeks about the law, criticizing the hasty manner in which it was adopted as a result of what he called Cuomo’s political objectives.
“I believe the governor rushed legislation and squandered an opportunity to enact meaningful legislation for the safety of our communities just to be the first and the toughest – for his own personal agenda,” the sheriff said.
“He capitalized on the hysterical following several tragic events. This legislation was reckless and irresponsible.”
Other legislators at the hearing were Republican Assemblymen Raymond W. Walter of Amherst, John D. Ceretto of Lewiston, Joseph M. Giglio of Gowanda and David J. DiPietro of East Aurora, as well as Democratic Assemblymen Dennis H. Gabryszak of Cheektowaga and Michael P. Kearns of Buffalo.