Gun Safety ‘Wrapped in a Mental Health Bill’: A Look at Health Provisions in the New Law

by | Jul 7, 2022 | Health

The gun safety law forged through tense bipartisan talks in the Senate last month has been heralded as the first federal legislation in 30 years to combat rising gun violence. But what often falls below the radar is the new law’s focus on improving mental health services.

News coverage has largely centered on the law’s provisions to enhance background checks for younger buyers, encourage states to implement their own “red flag laws,” and close the “boyfriend loophole.” Less attention has been paid to the mental health programs that most of the estimated $13 billion is earmarked for.

“It is kind of a gun safety bill wrapped in a mental health bill,” said Jeffrey Swanson, a psychiatry professor at the Duke University School of Medicine who studies the intersection of gun violence and mental illness.

The pairing of these initiatives in the legislation spearheaded by a small group of senators after the May 24 school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, was a result of Republicans’ insistence that any gun reform effort must also address mental health, even as Democrats disavowed a connection between the two concerns.

“We don’t think you can solve America’s gun violence epidemic through the prism of mental health. But if we have agreement between Democrats and Republicans to spend billions of additional dollars on mental health treatment, especially for vulnerable communities, let’s take that opportunity,” said Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), a key negotiator, while laying out the bill’s framework at a June 13 press conference.

While mental health advocates are happy Congres …

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