The US government has demonstrated with its No Fly and Selectee Lists, in operation for over a decade, how to deny respect for tens of thousands of individuals’ travel and privacy rights without even the slightest nod to due process protections. Over the last 19 months, the New York government has followed a similar course, using a new “No Guns List” to deny respect for tens of thousands of individuals’ right to keep and bear arms.
New York Times writer Anemona Hartocollis explains in a Sunday Times article that New York state’s 2013 gun control law the Secure Ammunition and Firearms Enforcement (SAFE) Act is facilitating the prohibition of gun ownership and possession for many New Yorkers by compelling physicians, psychologists, registered nurses, and licensed clinical social workers to report to the government the identities of any patients they think are "likely to engage in conduct that would result in serious harm to self or others."
Hartcollis notes that the vast majority of people thus reported, due to the idiosyncratic determination of a medical worker, are then put on the state’s new 'No Guns List.' In just the 19 months since the implementation of this SAFE Act provision, nearly 35,000 individuals have thereby been added to the list.
The only thing standing in the way of someone reported on being placed on a growing list of people barred for mental health reasons from owning or possessing a gun is a county bureaucrat who can review the report before a name is sent on to the state government.
But, as explained in the Times article, the county government review is often cursory or nonexistent:
New York’s law gives county officials the responsibility of reviewing the reports from mental health workers, ostensibly providing an added layer of oversight. But several said in interviews that they had little capacity to independently confirm whether the finding that a patient was dangerous was justified.
The way the law has played out, local officials said, frontline mental health workers feel compelled to routinely report mentally ill patients brought to an emergency room by the police or ambulances. County health officials are then supposed to vet each case before it is sent to Albany. But so many names are funneled to county health authorities through the system — about 500 per week statewide — that they have become, in effect, clerical workers, rubber-stamping the decisions, they said. From when the reporting requirement took effect on March 16, 2013 until Oct. 3, 41,427 reports have been made on people who have been flagged as potentially dangerous. Among these, 40,678 — all but a few hundred cases — were passed to Albany by county officials, according to the data obtained by The Times.
As of Saturday, the state updated the database to 42,900 reports, and said that roughly 34,500 of those were unique individuals. The rest of the names were duplicates because people had been reported more than once.
Kenneth M. Glatt, commissioner of mental hygiene for Dutchess County, said that at first, he had carefully scrutinized every name sent to him through the Safe Act. But then he realized that he was just “a middleman,” and that it was unlikely he would ever meet or examine any of the patients. So he began simply checking off the online boxes, sometimes without even reviewing the narrative about a patient.
“Every so often I read one just to be sure,” Dr. Glatt, a psychologist, said. “I am not going to second guess. I don’t see the patient. I don’t know the patient.” He said it would be more efficient — and more honest — for therapists to report names directly to the Division of Criminal Justice Services, which checks them against gun permit applications.
Not even a conscientious and thorough review by a team of well-qualified government workers would be a sufficient protection for someone faced with the deprivation of his property and means of defense. Where in the process is a trial or even any of the due process protections expected for an American criminal defendant? Nowhere.
The SAFE Act’s reporting on patients provision, codified in New York Mental Hygiene Law Section 9.46, says that the state will use the reports it receives from medical workers to help determine “whether a [firearms] license issued pursuant to section 400.00 of the penal law should be suspended or revoked, or for determining whether a person is ineligible for a license issued pursuant to section 400.00 of the penal law, or is no longer permitted under state or federal law to possess a firearm.”
This suggests some bureaucrats in Albany can use the reported information to decide on their own, and based on whatever criteria they find relevant, whether reported individuals may keep and bear arms. But the reality seems to be that the Albany bureaucrats are handling their part of the process the same way so many of their county counterparts are. It is made clear in the mental health frequently asked questions section of the governor office’s web pages dedicated to the Safe Act that restrictions on gun ownership and possession are automatically imposed upon the reporting of an individual to the state level:
Q: What information will a local [director of community services] report to [the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services], and what can DCJS do with such information?
A: A local DCS may only disclose a patient’s name and other non-clinical identifying information (e.g., date of birth, race, sex, SSN, address) to DCJS, and that information can be used by DJCS to determine if the patient has a firearms license.
If the patient has a firearms license, State Police will report that information to the local firearms licensing official, who must either suspend or revoke the license. The information may also be used in connection with a determination of firearms license eligibility should the subject of the report apply for a firearms license in the subsequent five years.
In the implementation of the mental health law provision of the SAFE Act we see the liberty-suppressing potential of a mandated “if you see something, say something” informant program combined with a government database and a routine bureaucratic process.
Whether or not you live in New York, own a gun, or have been subjected to a mental health evaluation, the development and use of New York’s new No Guns Database should be of concern. Weeks, months, or years from now a new government database may be put into action — with your name in it.
Read here, here, here, and here prior Ron Paul Institute for Peace and Prosperity reports concerning the movement on the state and US government level to expand the size and use of government mental health databases in the name of gun control.
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