Legislators to examine gun deaths and the mentally ill

Firearms were used in more than half of Nevada homicides and suicides from 2010 through 2012, according to a state health report prepared for a Thursday Senate Health and Human Services Committee hearing.

And mental illness played a factor in many of those deaths, including among patients who were clients of Nevada's Mental Health and Developmental Services, according to the report.

More than 59 percent of those state mental health patients who died of firearms-related homicide or "legal intervention," presumably an encounter with law enforcement, had been diagnosed with schizophrenia or a psychotic disorder, according to the Nevada State Health Division.

And more than 54 percent of suicides and all accidental deaths with firearms involved patients diagnosed with mood disorders, the report said. Other firearms-related deaths involved anxiety, drug abuse or other problems.

The information on firearms deaths and mental health was prepared for a hearing at 3:30 p.m. today called by Sen. Justin Jones, D-Las Vegas, chairman of the Senate Health and Human Services Committee.

Jones said he wanted to call in experts to discuss mental health and guns as Nevada lawmakers and the nation grapple with what to do in the aftermath of mass killings involving disturbed gunmen.

In Connecticut in December, a 20-year-old man shot and killed 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School. In Carson City, on Sept. 6, 2011, a 32-year-old gunman, Eduardo Sencion, shot 12 people at a Carson City IHOP, killing four. Both shooters committed suicide. Sencion's family said he had been diagnosed with schizophrenia. He had voluntarily committed himself, which didn't prevent him from getting guns.

"The purpose of the hearing is to hear from the professionals in various disciplines involved in the issue of access to firearms for those who suffer from mental illness before introducing potential legislation on this issue," Jones said Wednesday. "I and others on the committee ... want to understand the issue and make sure that any proposals that we put forward will actually have a positive impact without the unintended consequences that often come from hastily adopted measures."

A couple of major bills are in the works. Assemblyman Lynn Stewart, R-Henderson, has a bill backed by police, court and Nevada health officials to give officials the ability to ask a judge to involuntarily commit a mentally ill person to outpatient care and medication instead of to a more expensive psychiatric hospital.

Sen. Ben Kieckhefer, R-Reno, who sits on the Senate committee with Jones, is proposing separate legislation to prevent more mentally ill people from buying guns. Now, only those who have been judged legally insane or committed against their will are listed in a federal registry that bans them from buying firearms.

Kieckhefer would expand the number of mentally ill in the registry by getting people listed as soon as there is a legal petition filed to commit someone because he or she is a danger to themselves or others.

Contact Laura Myers at lmyers@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2919. Follow @lmyerslvrj on Twitter.