PALM BEACH COUNTY, Fla. - House Bill 1355 takes aim at keeping weapons out of the hands of people with mental illness. It is set to become Florida law, and it's on Governor Rick Scott's desk awaiting approval.
Representative Dave Kerner said, "The purpose of the bill, in my opinion, is to make sure we are prohibiting the purchase of firearms by persons who are committed pursuant to our Baker Act statute, and who voluntarily seek mental health services after the 72 hour period."
The bill states that people who fit the criteria, and who are believed to be a threat to themselves or others, would not be allowed to purchase firearms. Their names would be listed on a state and national database. Kerner, a co-introducer of the bill, says it is difficult to know how many crimes would have been prevented with such a law in the past.
"I do believe this will make a big difference. When I served as a police officer, I had to take patients into custody on a weekly basis because of their desire to hurt themselves or others," he said.
Sheriff Ric Bradshaw is working on a violence prevention program for Palm Beach County, with funding from the state of Florida. He calls the bill "important."
"First of all, we have to understand that this is not an indictment of people that have mental illness, because not everybody who has mental illness is violent," he said.
Bradshaw believes the bill could be useful in preventing future crimes.
"If we can identify these people ahead of time, and get them the help that they need, rather than wait and react to something that's happening, that's how you stop these bad things from happening at schools and businesses," Bradshaw said.
The bill has raised questions and concerns for mental health advocates like Pam Gionfriddo, the CEO of the Mental Health Association of Palm Beach County.
"It is singling out people who have mental illness and are seeking out treatment voluntarily," she said.
Gionfriddo believes measures like HB 1355 could take away rights from people. She wants more effort and funding for mental health care. Funding for mental health programs has been decreasing in recent years, she said.
"My fear is that people who need help aren't going to seek it out, cause nobody wants to be on a database," she said.
May is Mental Health Month. A Pathways to Wellness Resource Fair is May 16th from 9:00a.m. to 3:00p.m. at the Embassy Suites at 1601 Belvedere Road in West Palm Beach. It is free and open to the public.