The PJ Tatler

Dem Congressman's Bill Focuses on Identifying and, if Necessary, Committing Mentally Ill

A Democratic congressman who was wounded by Jared Loughner in the 2011 Tucson shooting is trying to better train first responders to recognize and commit mentally ill people who could pose a danger.

Rep. Ron Barber (D-Ariz.), former district director for ex-Rep. Gabby Giffords (D-Ariz.) who was wounded alongside the congresswoman, ran for and won Giffords’ seat after she stepped down to focus on her recovery.

He introduced his Mental Health First Act of 2013 at the beginning of this Congress in January. It has 50 co-sponsors.

“I believe that if we can inform first responders, teachers, and others who may come into contact with people who are exhibiting mental health symptoms, if we could inform them and make them more aware of what they’re seeing, what the treatment options or available services are, and know how to de-escalate a crisis, I believe we can minimize, at least to some degree, the dangerous activities of people who go over the edge, as apparently happened on Monday,” Barber said today on MSNBC.

“In the case of the Tucson shooting, we know in hindsight that the shooter was displaying serious mental health issues for at least two years. His parents, fellow students, the administrators at the college, the police at the college, all saw something, but they never put it together,” he continued. “The Mental Health First Aid Act provides training across the country to all of these first responders and others who night come into contact to give them a better understanding of mental illness, what they — what they’re seeing and what — understanding what they’re seeing and knowing how to get someone into treatment. And that’s really the focus of the bill.”

Barber said his legislation is “gathering a lot of support both in the Senate and the House.”

“At least in Arizona, and I believe it’s true in many states, if not all, a police officer who responds to a situation where they feel the person is displaying symptoms of a serious mental illness that might lead to a dangerous activity, they can take that person for at least a 72-hour observation by a professional in the field of mental health,” the congressman said. “That could well lead to a desire and the need to have that person in treatment, whether voluntarily or involuntarily.”

“And I think we need to make sure that our first responders have a lot more information about what they’re seeing and knowing what to do about it when they see it.”

Barber added that his approach is “not a cure-all by any means,” but a bipartisan cog in a larger strategy.

“I know from the leadership of the majority party in the House, my sense is that they want to have a mental health bill, a package, if you will, of bills, including the one that that I’ve proposed to go forward, and probably not deal with the background check issue,” he said. “I mean, that’s where we stand. I think we have two different approaches in the two different chambers.”