NY SAFE Act infringes on rights of mentally ill

Guns are on the mind of the nation, as are concerns over people with mental illnesses and their risk to society. Unfortunately, in its response to the Newtown tragedy, New York’s SAFE Act has infringed upon the rights of the mentally ill.

The SAFE Act requires that people who pose a risk to themselves or others must be reported, with their gun permits revoked and their guns permanently confiscated. On its face, this sounds rational and important for the sake of public safety. In reality, however, the new law misses the mark.

The law’s intention is to remove possible weapons from the mentally ill before they have the chance to do harm. In fact, the SAFE Act website refers constantly to the horrific events that occurred in the past two years to explain the reasoning. But many of those shooters were not fully diagnosed. And even where psychologists or psychiatrists were involved, they could not have known what would happen.

More importantly, the SAFE Act imposes a controversial duty to report on mental health professionals and strips away the due process rights of the mentally ill. Under the new law, the mentally ill are subject to search and seizure of their personal property without a warrant, probable cause or hearing. A mentally ill person, if violent at all, most likely is already supervised by the state in some capacity. Restraining the rights of individuals because of a statement rather than an action is far more overreaching and invasive. Those with a mental illness should not be presumed guilty and subjected to different standards than others.

Katie L. Kestel Martin