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Editorial: SAFE Act not so safe

The passage of the New York Secure Ammunition and Firearms Enforcement Act in 2013 struck a controversial chord in the ongoing battle to reach an effective and lawful balance between gun control and gun rights in the United States.

The SAFE Act requires mental health care professionals to input any information about a patient deemed “likely to engage in conduct that would result in serious harm to self or others” into a comprehensive database. Individuals registered with the database are legally prohibited from possessing or obtaining a firearm permit until their names have been removed, making New York one of the most liberal states in terms of gun control in the United States. The database has grown to over 34,000 names, according to Division of Criminal Justice Services statistics reported this weekend by the New York Times.

It is imperative that gun violence be taken seriously. But the SAFE Act veers from this predominant issue, instead undermining the natural, civil and constitutional rights of New York citizens.

The tragically high number of mass shootings — particularly the 2012 one in Newtown, Connecticut — that have occurred in the past few years has opened a discourse that has the potential to foster constructive legislation on the issue of gun rights. However, the SAFE Act, in its focus on the mentally ill, is misdirected and neither effectively addresses the issue of public safety nor facilitates productive policymaking.

Not only does the SAFE Act deny the constitutional right to bear arms, but it also stigmatizes and infringes upon the rights of mentally ill citizens in New York. Gun control activists insist that the 34,500 names listed in the database establish a wider safety net. But regardless of whether people support or decry firearms in the United States, merely targeting those with mental health issues is an unproductive deviation from the issue of gun politics in general.

In light of the SAFE Act’s passage, Sherri Nelson, director of Brown’s Counseling and Psychological Services, wrote in an email to the editorial page board that it is a common and unfortunate misconception that individuals with mental illness are significantly more prone to violence, adding that there is concern that the SAFE Act could legitimize and perpetuate this perception, reinforcing the stigmas that are so often paired with mental illness.

“People with mental illness are much more likely to be the target of violence than those who are not mentally ill,” she wrote.

With the correct legislation, gun violence can be eliminated. But New York’s SAFE Act attacks the mentally ill, not gun violence. Its focus is misplaced, and it therefore reinforces an unproductive stigma. In order to combat the issue of gun violence, states need to adopt laws that protect all citizens — on all accounts.

 

Editorials are written by The Herald’s editorial page board: Natasha Bluth ’15, Alexander Kaplan ’15, Manuel Monti-Nussbaum ’15, Katherine Pollock ’16, James Rattner ’15 and Himani Sood ’15. Send comments to editorials@browndailyherald.com.



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