Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
November 26, 2014

Isla Vista Shooting Prompts Consideration of Mental Health Bills

murphy 134 072911 445x308 Isla Vista Shooting Prompts Consideration of Mental Health Bills

Murphy is among the Republicans calling for action on mental health legislation after the shootings in California. (Bill Clark/Roll Call File Photo)

Mental health bills are getting a fresh look after the Isla Vista massacre, with lawmakers in both chambers and both parties pushing Congress to act.

In the aftermath of the killing spree blamed on Elliot Rodger, Democrats activated, issuing what seem like ritual news releases and tweets ripping Congress for failing to act on gun legislation, particularly in the wake of the 2012 massacre in Newtown, Conn.

But few expect Congress to resurrect a gun debate in the shadow of the midterm elections.Efforts to pass gun control effectively died in the Senate a year ago, when Republicans defeated a background check compromise proposed by Sens. Joe Manchin III, D-W.Va., and Patrick J. Toomey, R-Pa. Their amendment fell five votes short of the 60 votes it needed. Senate Democrats and the White House even pushed off a vote on President Barack Obama’s nominee to be surgeon general this year, due to opposition from the National Rifle Association.

Legislation addressing mental health has more promising potential to reach President Barack Obama’s desk, although it is by no means a slam dunk. There already are multiple mental health bills in the House, and the Senate gun legislation included several mental health pieces that could be resurrected.

“Our mental health system has failed and more families have been destroyed because Washington hasn’t had the courage to fix it,” Rep. Tim Murphy, R-Pa., said in a statement over the weekend after the shooting. “How many more people must lose their lives before we take action on addressing cases of serious mental illness?”

Murphy, a clinical psychologist, plans a Thursday briefing on his committee’s report on mental health, written over the course of a year following the tragedy in Newtown. The report calls for better training on mental health for law enforcement and emergency medical personnel.

Murphy says his bill would also expand access to psychiatric treatment and it would encourage states to set a new standard for committing people — the need for treatment, not that they present an imminent danger. It would also make it easier for family members to take action.

The bill has 86 co-sponsors, 50 Republicans and 36 Democrats.  And Murphy has support from Republican leadership.

“Majority Leader [Eric] Cantor is very supportive of Congressman Murphy’s efforts,” said Doug Heye, a spokesman for the Virginia Republican, who sets the floor schedule. “He continues to work with Congressman Murphy and [Energy and Commerce] Chairman [Fred] Upton on ways to advance legislation focused on improving mental health services.”

Rep. Ken Calvert, R-Calif., also pushed for the House to take up Murphy’s bill, which had an Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health hearing in April.

“Sadly, it appears as though the tragedy in Isla Vista once again highlights the shortcomings of our mental health system,” he said in a statement. “Despite warning signs and apparent attempts by the suspect’s parents to get mental health treatment for their son, the system failed.”

Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, has also repeatedly pointed to the mental health issue when asked to respond to mass shootings.

A rival bill from Rep. Ron Barber of Arizona, one of the most endangered Democrats in the House, would focus on broader mental health issues rather than the severely mentally ill.

Barber was among those injured in 2011 when a gunman opened fire at then-Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and others at a “Congress on Your Corner” event in Tucson, Ariz. “The best thing we can do is early identification and treatment — that’s what prevents people from becoming more severely involved,” he told CQ Roll Call earlier this month.

But a spokesman for Murphy ripped the Democratic bill’s approach as “a placebo” that would maintain the status quo.

Joe Kasper, a spokesman for Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., said his boss will continue to fight for Murphy’s bill. But he was doubtful the House Republican Conference has the appetite for legislation of this kind in an election year.

“I think leaders will fight on this, but it’s very possible they don’t know where the conference is, and they want to avoid any situation where mental health is primarily hitched to the gun debate,” he said.

Kasper added that the failure so far to advance Murphy’s bill was “not for lack of trying.”

“Maybe they’ll find room in between tragedies to start having a conversation about mental health,” Kasper continued. “It’s definitely overdue. I think a lot of people recognize that. … If you were to ask Mr. Murphy and Mr. Hunter, they’d tell you that time was yesterday.”

Action could happen first in the Senate, if Democrats follow a recommendation from Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn. He’s proposing that Democrats present legislation focusing on the mental health component of the gun legislation that stalled last year.

“We thought after Newtown that we would, in fact, accomplish a comprehensive measure to reduce gun violence,” he said Tuesday on MSNBC. “The failure to do so is shameful and disgraceful. My hope is that we can refocus on mental health, which was part of the comprehensive measure.”

Broader gun control legislation faces opposition from some conservative Democrats and most Republicans.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., blamed the NRA’s “stranglehold” on gun laws over the weekend following the Isla Vista shootings.

“We must ask ourselves if an individual whose family called police with concerns about mental health, who is receiving therapy and who has had several run-ins with police should be allowed to own multiple firearms and hundreds of rounds of ammunition,” she said. “When anyone, no matter their mental health or history, can so easily obtain any gun they want and as many as they want — we must recognize there is a problem. … Americans need to rise up and say enough is enough. Until that happens, we will continue to see these devastating attacks. Shame on us for allowing this to continue.”

  • Derfallbright

    I think this may be one of the unintended consequences of closing all the “nut houses” probably 30 years ago without a ‘plan’ and money dedicated to dealing with the issue of mental illness in our society.

    There were clearly problems with people being declared mentally ill incorrectly when all they needed was to take their medicine. These institutions were like the VA drowning in burcratic ineptitude.

    Our lawmakers in conjunction with the courts need to develop new laws that make it easier to ‘baker act’ people with out the fear of being subject to lawsuits. I fully support gun ownership rights, but maybe there needs to be a way for a person to let their gun be held of safe keeping when they are having ruff times and periods of mental stress. It’s dangerous to make it too easy for the government to take someone’s guns but it seems like some middle ground need to be found because it seems like most of these mass shooting case have been by people who are identified ‘after the fact’ to have had mental problems.”

    • john Diamond

      right. But the common theme is the mental issues. IN Sandy hook he shot his mom in the head and STOLE her guns. No law would have prevented that, but if this boy had been institutionalized both he and those children would be alive today.

  • Jazzy

    Why have the Isla Vista murders of 8 gotten more publicity than the Obama administrations EUC and VA scandal? Any journalist will tell ya, Santa Barbara is darn nice this time of year. Why don’t we hear more on the CIA blown cover? If you were a journalist, would you want to go back to Afghanistan?

  • dajobr

    what clearly works is gun control laws
    changing committment laws, another way to restrict peoples real freedom to life liberty and happiiness, is not the answer and will not help

    • john Diamond

      Washington DC and Chicago put the lie to that assertion. Gun laws are ineffective and punish the innocent. The “progressives” need to be consistent. Are you for choice or not? To paraphrase your bumper sticker bromides, you don’t like guns? Don’t buy one. Mental health, and drugs like Zoloft and Paxil have been involved in the last 7 mass assaults. I say assaults because two were killed with knives and four people were run over with a car. Commitment laws do work but after the ACLU shameful efforts on behalf of Brown V Koch, it became harder to help those in need. Somehow leaving them defecating on the street was more compassionate?????

  • docb

    Consideration!!!!…is the red flag for Congressional ‘LIP SERVICE’! Hoping this will die down like Sandy Hook and the victims will go away or at least protest quietly!
    Martinez does not appear to be going away and we should not either..
    Call the nra shills in congress out ..LOUDLY AND DAILY:

    1.866.338.1015 or 1.866.220.0044

  • pitch1934

    Where is the consideration of stricter gun control? Keep the guns out of the hands of nuts by making them more difficult to obtain.

    • john Diamond

      This has been the policy and it ignores the root cause of men5tal issues and what these drugs like Zoloft and Paxil and wellbutrin can do. ON TV they outright say, ” May cause feelings of suicide” Is it really a stretch to consider that perhaps they can lead to murder in certain individuals with mental problems? The last seven mass attacks have involved one or more of these drugs. Big Pharma is the problem,. not legal law abiding gun owners.

      • pitch1934

        And what do you propose John? Should we incarcerate the mentally ill? Should we put them away? Or, should we make it more difficult for them to get their hands on guns? The Santa Barbara shooter made a “legal” gun purchase.

        • john Diamond

          and he stabbed two to death and ran over four people. The Sandy Hook shooter stole the guns after shooting his mom in the head. NO gun law would have prevented these deaths.I would like to have program run by judges that allows families to petition the courts for involuntary mental health check ups with due cause. Are you aware of Brown V Koch? If not look at how much Ms Brown was helped once she was on medicine and how her life devolved after she was “emancipated by the cruel Governor Koch” (sarcasm) She was defecating on the streets and shouting at passerbys while the ACLU went on to their next case. Shameful.

  • Aline Kaplan

    There are a couple of very good reasons to focus our efforts on mental health, instead of guns. One is that we can get things done with less opposition and the second is that we have to start fixing the problem long before these young men can buy or shoot a gun. Read my whole post on The Next Phase blog for details: http://aknextphase.com/?p=2649

  • denner OP4444

    Trading the futures is where the new money is at the best website I’ve found so far is a place called Traders Superstore Google them and you should be able to find them. I have all four of their courses and now trading for myself. The futures is where all the action is now and I never knew how much money there is to make in trading the futures until now.

  • Water Dude

    In related YouTube video, we find the liar-in-chief, Hussein Obama, lying to the face of the American people about keeping their insurance and their doctor: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DXqKp5B0ZLE&feature=youtu.be&t=1s

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