Republicans Prove Insincerity on Mental Health and Gun Safety

Senator Minority Leader Chris Holbert (R-Parker)

On the opening day of the 2019 legislative session, Sen. Chris Holbert (R-Parker) delivered his prepared remarks to a packed Senate chamber now controlled by Democrats after sweeping election victories two months earlier. As Senate Minority Leader, it was Holbert’s job to plot out legislative strategy for a Party that could do little more than disrupt and delay without the votes to move individual pieces of legislation.

“We have the voice, but not the votes,” acknowledged Holbert. As such, he used his time at the podium to pre-emptively position his caucus on a number of key issues, bookended by rote Republican warnings about overspending and overregulating. When it came time to talk about his concerns with so-called “red flag” gun safety legislation, Holbert stuck to the standard Republican script about focusing instead on improving mental health resources in Colorado.

“Rather than empower government to seize property, let’s focus on securing help for those persons who need our help the most.  For opioid addition, red flag scenarios, and other instances when people cry out for help, let us avoid rewarding bad behavior or trampling on the Constitution. Rather, let us work together to provide more and better mental health resources including beds, mental and physical health care, and healing for those who need our help the most.” [Pols emphasis]

Gun violence, said Holbert, is a mental health problem and not an issue about access to deadly weapons. This is a common Republican approach in pushing back against the “librul gun grabbers” who threaten their political existence. The sentiment is about as sincere as a form letter.

Pretend mental health advocate Rep. Steve Humphrey (R-Severence)

Colorado Republicans have been vocal about their opposition to “red flag” legislation, which was signed into law by Gov. Jared Polis on April 12. The Deputy Zackari Parrish III Violence Protection Act provides for the enforcement of “extreme risk protection orders” for the purpose of temporarily disarming people who are deemed a danger to themselves or to others. Here’s what a peeved Rep. Steve Humphrey (R-Severence) told the Grand Junction Sentinel in March:

“We should be looking at this issue as a mental health issue and not right away immediately going after someone’s constitutional right.”

Oh, really?

In the last week, lawmakers finalized the passage of HB19-1269, the “Behavioral Health Care Coverage Modernization Act,” which will improve access to mental health care for Coloradans. The bill made it through both legislative chambers despite widespread opposition from the same Republicans who regularly insist on prioritizing mental health improvements over gun safety measures. A total of 24 Republicans VOTED AGAINST HB-1269, including Holbert and House Minority Leader Patrick Neville. And Steve Humphrey.

Meanwhile, Republicans are still trying to rally supporters to action over the “red flag” legislation – and still claiming to be interested in prioritizing mental health improvements. On Thursday, the Rocky Mountain Gun Owners (RMGO) group held a press conference at the State Capitol to announce a silly lawsuit attempting to overturn the “red flag” measure. Standing alongside RMGO head honcho Dudley Brown were Rep. Neville, Rep. Humphrey, Rep. Dave Williams, and Rep. Lori Saine. All four Republican lawmakers voted ‘NO’ on the mental health bill two days earlier.

Colorado Republicans are free to express their opposition to any sort of gun safety legislation, but they can’t keep pretending that it has anything to do with prioritizing mental health improvements.

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12 Community Comments, Facebook Comments

    • mamajama55 says:

      The MHA article makes some good points:

      *Most mentally ill people are not violent (except possibly to themselves via self-harm or suicide in major depressive disorder)

      * Therefore, a diagnosis of mental illness by itself should not be a "red flag" warning, or cause confiscation of firearms

      protective procedures should not depend on a mental health or substance use disorder.

      * While mental illness does not necessarily cause violence, violence does cause mental illness via trauma, which in turn can foster substance abuse, etc

      *There is a strong correlation between mental illness, substance abuse, and violent ideation.

      I would add that in our current political climate, these individuals may be encouraged to fear , become armed and paranoid. A person like that threatened my life.

      About 1/4 of the people I know have some sort of mental illness. Kids and adults. We're all walking wounded to some degree.,but most of us are also functional.  Yet out of all those people, only one or two  are actually dangerous, with the combination of mental illness and substance abuse (and past trauma and violent ideation ), in a political climate which encourages people to be paranoid and "prepared" for violence.

      The MHA made 4 recommendations:

      One, fund community mental health centers and encourage early intervention with children. I agree.

      Two

      • Provide training to gun shop employees to assist them in identifying persons whose sole intent in purchasing a weapon is to die by suicide.  … in those states which license gun dealers, suicide prevention training could be a requirement of licensure. Maybe.
      • Create a mechanism to allow persons with mental health conditions and violent ideation to voluntarily and temporarily surrender their right to purchase a firearm until such ideation is resolved.  It's hard to see how that would work.
      • Enact “Gun Violence Restraining Order” legislation.  Several states have enacted such legislation which is modeled after domestic violence restraining order laws.  These laws avoid stigmatizing persons with mental illnesses because they are not focused on mental illness but on the risk of gun violence.  Following a hearing, a court may order that an individual may temporarily be deprived of her/his guns.
      •  

      Colorado just did that with the red flag order. And I agree.

  1. Voyageur says:

    So, it's perfectly normal to waste 50 people at a nightclub?  Can we get a second opinion — maybe from an organization on this planet?

    • JohnInDenver says:

      Clearly, not normal.

      Also, killing 50 people is not, depending on circumstance, necessarily an outgrowth of mental illness. 

       * My Dad was sane as sane can be … he also cooperated in pretty extensive mass killing as he and his crew dropped bombs in WWII.

       * As best I remember, no claim of "mental illness" for the My Lai massacre.

       * Steven Paddock, the Las Vegas shooter — police report says "was believed to have been bipolar, but had never been diagnosed or arrested before."

      * And Omar Mateen, of Pulse Nightclub infamy, was known to be abusive and had various lay people say he was unstable, but wasn't diagnosed or under treatment. He claimed it was an ISIS attack — but no clear links to that organization, either.

  2. 2Jung2Die says:

    Just weighing back in because I did sort of a drive-by comment yesterday. I posted it because IMO it's fairly obvious that right-wing politician statements like "we need to take care of mental health first" are tools of deflection, and as the diary suggests it's even worse if they won't vote for bills that would support access.

    But I'm definitely not saying mental health can't contribute to horrifying violence.

    I think JID touches on a big problem in his last point above. For a person to be prevented from committing acts of violence due to mental health reasons, someone (family member/acquaintance/co-worker/law enforcement, etc.,) needs to recognize that the person needs help and the person in question has to agree to seek treatment (unless it's to the point where someone needs to step in). I don't have stats to back this up, but I'll guess that most Coloradans except those who live in remote rural areas probably could find access to mental health services, if anyone took the first step of persuading them to seek help. Whether it's affordable or convenient could be a different issue, and a humane state should do its best to support adequate access for as many people as possible – yet again GOP philosophy of anti-tax crusading or drowning gubmint in a bathtub or killing Obamacare or insisting on using general fund money for transportation makes expanding mental health access difficult.

    Anyhow, just a long-winded way of saying I for one support expanding mental health services and availability, but we shouldn't look at it as a panacea, and I don't appreciate politicians and think tanks using lack of easy universal access as an excuse to stall or prevent other types of action.

    • JohnInDenver says:

      Colorado Gazette did a deep dive on mental health in Colorado last year. One point I remembered and went back to find specifically:

      On paper, Colorado ranks well for residents’ ability to access care, coming in 10th among the states in the recent Mental Health America report. That’s due, in part, to the state’s rock-bottom uninsured rate of 6.5 percent.

      But the challenges described to The Gazette in a wide range of interviews also show that such rankings can be deceiving.

      About 382,000 Coloradans living with mental illness said they couldn’t get the treatment they needed, according to the 2017 Colorado Health Access Survey by the Colorado Health Institute.

      “It’s not that Colorado is doing a good job, period — it’s just that there are so many other states that are doing a worse job,” said Theresa Nguyen, Mental Health America’s vice president of policy and programs.

      In addition to the state’s discouraging statistics about those who suffer from mental health issues, 67,000 more people reported an inability to get the substance abuse services they need.

  3. Gray in Mountains says:

    We only rank 10th in access because access has been systematically removed nationwide. 

  4. notaskinnycook says:

    The only slack I can give him on that is that his own mind wasn't firing on all cylinders when he thought that was a good idea. But the real blame belongs to the people who lobbied Congress about "all those people who had done nothing wrong but were 'incarcerated' in institutions against their will.

    So, we saw the Great Psychiatric Turnout of the early 80's. Some did okay, but too many floundered without access to ongoing therapy and medication. And from that event sprang the seeds of the crisis we have today of the chronic, mentally-ill, homeless.

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