Minnesota sheriffs propose mental health and gun access reforms - FOX 35 News Orlando

Minnesota sheriffs propose mental health and gun access reforms

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MINNEAPOLIS (KMSP) -

A group of Minnesota sheriffs, led by Hennepin County Sheriff Rich Stanek and Carver County Sheriff Jim Olson, want to make it harder for people living with mental illness to get guns.

"We have an epidemic of untreated mental illness in the U.S. and right here in Minnesota," Stanek said.

The sheriffs held a news conference Wednesday afternoon to announce proposed reforms to the state's gun laws. Among the proposed reforms:

  • Strengthen existing gun background check laws
  • Provide greater access to mental health records for law enforcement
  • Address gaps in providing services and resources to Minnesotans who live with untreated mental illness.

Stanek, who also advised Vice President Joe Biden on this issue, led the charge on Wednesday to seek better ways to treat those suffering from mental conditions.

"We should be asking the question: How do we get these folks treatment before they become violent?" Stanek said as he outlined a multi-point agenda.

Improving the National Instant Background Check System, NICS for short, is a primary focus, according to Stanek. The group recommended all felony drug convictions, mental health court records and other disqualifying gun ownership records sent to the BCA be immediately entered into the NICS within 24 hours.

Currently, such information is not always added quickly, and law enforcement officials say that simple change could dramatically help prevent criminals and the mentally ill from illegally acquiring a firearm.

"Never -- and I mean never -- should a person deemed mentally ill and dangerous by the courts be allowed to purchase a handgun," said Olson.

Yet, mental health access is also a critical issue -- and that's why the sheriffs also called for a review of the state's civil commitment law in order to make it easier for families to get help for a loved one. They also advocate improving access to in-and-out patient clinics.

Rep. Dan Schoen, who is also a police officer in Cottage Grove, said he has seen how lack of access to care can culminate in confinement -- but he says that's no substitute for treatment.

"We are out there helping people in crisis situations that need help and need care, not necessarily confinement to one of our jails," he said.

Judge Jay Quam, who presides over a mental health courtroom in Hennepin County and considers commitment petitions, called for structural reform to keep jails from becoming holding facilities.

"Our criminal justice system is failing the interests of the people living with mental illness and we need to improve the system so this population is not languishing in jail," said Quam.

Quam suggested streamlining the system for those with acute symptoms, and recommendations were also made to review the state's legal standard for commitment. Currently, courts may only order mental health treatment when a person is determined to be a danger to themselves or others.

The following officials and experts spoke during the conference on Wednesday:

  • Hennepin County Sheriff Rich Stanek
  • Carver County Sheriff Jim Olson
  • Democratic Rep. Dan Schoen, also with the Cottage Grove Police Department
  • Judge Jay Quam, with Hennepin County Mental Health Court
  • Democratic Rep. John Lesch, of St. Paul
  • Democratic Sen. Ron Latz
  • Sue Abderholden, with National Alliance on Mental Illness Minnesota
  • Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman
  • Republican Sen. Julianne Ortman
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