Bill to close gap in the Baker Act process

caines | 3/28/2013, 5:30 a.m.

Since late January, Florida State Rep. Barbara Watson has been consulting with experts from the Florida Supreme Court Mental Health Task Force, the National Rifle Association and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to further enhance Floridas ability to keep persons with mental illnesses who are known to be a danger to themselves or others from purchasing firearms in Florida. Last Tuesday she presented HB 1355 to the Committee for Criminal Justice to "initiate a substantive conversation on gun control." I am pleased to have the support of experts with whom we have worked to develop a bill that will give us further protection against people with mental illnesses buying firearms," Watson said. "But it also provides a pathway for those with mental illnesses to have their rights restored once a judge and physicians determine that they're mentally stable enough to possess a firearm. The specific problem, identified by Watson, deals with situations where people with mental illnesses who are a danger to themselves or others agree to a voluntary commitment for treatment to avoid an involuntary commitment proceeding, then quickly check themselves out of the mental health facility and have no record in the National Instant Check System (NICS) database to prohibit them from purchasing a firearm. Under HB 1355, a person could be prohibited from purchasing a firearm if the examining physician finds the person imminently dangerous to himself or others and files a special certificate that if the person doesn't agree to voluntary commitment for treatment, an involuntary commitment petition will be filed. At the time the person is diagnosed as dangerous, the person would receive written notice of the certification and agrees to accept voluntary commitment with a full understanding that he or she will be prohibited from purchasing a firearm or applying for a concealed weapons or firearms license or retaining one. The bill would require speedy transmission of this information to the county court; if a judge approves the record for submission to the instant check system, it is sent along quickly to the FDLE for entry into NICS. Relief from the disability would be available through the existing statutory process. If the person disagrees or feels strongly about not giving up his gun rights, the person can refuse to sign and the petition for involuntary commitment can move ahead. Essentially, the bill language closes the gap in the Baker Act process and allows the state to put a prohibition on dangerous people who should be prohibited from having a firearm. Miami Times staff report