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Mental health professionals weigh in on New Jersey gun law idea

Recent acts of gun violence throughout the country have inspired many states, New Jersey included, to try to develop changes to their states' gun laws. Creating effective and ethical legislation takes more than the fears and ideas of lawmakers.

In regards to proposed New Jersey gun laws, the enactment of a certain portion of the proposal would impact more than potential gun violence. It would impact the status quo within the mental health industry in the state. Psychologists' insight on the anti-gun violence matter, therefore, is invaluable.

Currently, counselors, mental health workers, doctors, nurses, etc. have to report to authorities if a patient poses a threat of "imminent, serious violence" against himself or another. Part of the New Jersey legislative proposal is A-3754. If passed, the gun law provision would add a new weight on the shoulders of mental health professionals in the state.

The legislative change would require those same medical professionals to report patients to authorities if they are "likely to engage in conduct that would result in serious harm to that patient or others." Authorities could then take away the patients' guns based on a perceived threat of violence.

Some medical professionals fear that the proposal asks them to make too wide of a judgment call that then puts their patients' rights at risk as well as the doctor-patient trust in jeopardy. Patients who need to talk and to have honest conversations about their mental health might be afraid to be honest about their thoughts and feelings if they fear the involvement of police. That fear, some mental health workers suggest, could prevent patients from seeking professional help or have an otherwise detrimental impact on the effectiveness of mental health treatment.

Cautious legislating is important for various reasons. It takes time, money and effort to enact new gun laws. The lackadaisical passage of gun control measures could be a waste of those resources while not solving the problem, or even exacerbating the problem. For example, what if those who need mental help don't seek it because they think that they can't trust their doctors? What if the mental health they would have received could have prevented an act of violence?

We will post an update when there is a development in gun legislation in New Jersey.

Source: NJSpotlight, "Proposed Law Could Use Therapy as Way to Seize Guns from Troubled Owners,"