By Chas Sisk, The Tennessean
The Tennessee Senate approved a bill Thursday that would require
mental health professionals to report potential threats to law
enforcement, a move supporters say could head off mass shootings.
Senate Bill 789
passed unanimously as lawmakers found little reason to debate a measure
that tightens reporting requirements for mental health workers and the
courts. The bill is part of a push - backed by gun-rights proponents and
gun-control advocates alike - to change mental health laws in response
to the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Conn., in
"Mass violence of any sort is a tragic occurrence. But
the worst tragedy results when the state overreacts to a mass shooting
by restricting the Second Amendment rights of the law-abiding," Lt. Gov.
Ron Ramsey said in a prepared statement praising the measure. "This
bill focuses not on inanimate objects but on the very real issue of
mental health. ...
"By focusing on the mentally ill, we will focus
on those who should not have weapons while leaving the law-abiding gun
owner free to exercise his God-given constitutional right."
Tennessee Psychological Association supports the bill. Mark Greene, a
lobbyist for the group, said it clarifies that when clients make threats
to harm or kill, the police must be told, in addition to potential
"We understand that there's a push to deal with the
mental health side of gun ownership," he said. "The psychologist or the
physician or whoever was treating the patient, when they do the
alerting, they have to call the police."
The bill also requires
police to pass information they receive about potential threats to the
FBI and the Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security. Doing
so could prevent a patient from purchasing a firearm.
and health care professionals have a responsibility of confidentiality,"
said state Sen. Ferrell Haile, the measure's sponsor. "What we're
trying to do with this bill is equalize the responsibility that they
have to warn the public."
A lobbyist for the Tennessee Medical Association says his group also accepts the measure.
discussion there has been about the bill has centered on mental health
professionals. But the measure also requires that the names of people
who have been committed involuntarily to a mental health facility be
sent to the FBI more frequently.
Under current Tennessee law,
courts send this information to the FBI once every three months. The
bill would give court officers no more than three days to report.
The House version of the bill is set to come up for a hearing Wednesday in the Civil Justice Committee.