That could keep people from stepping forward and asking for help if they’re concerned about their mental health. Soper pointed out that one in four people have mental illness, and those people are far more likely to be victims than perpetrators. Some have already been in bad situations with police, she said.
“Opening these records would be more adverse than positive,” Soper said. “People who don’t understand mental illness get preconceived notions. Just because you are diagnosed with a mental illness doesn’t mean you’re violent and I don’t think opening private records would be helpful in preventing crimes that involve guns.
“I think they are simplifying the problem. I think people are trying to find a simple answer for a very complex issue.”
The situation is complex, Peterson said. He also said it will be more challenging to find a way to take guns away from someone who is already a gun owner, but is in a situation where their mental health is deteriorating. Should a doctor treating a patient be required to ask questions about gun ownership and initiate a process to have the guns removed? Would a doctor send a report to law enforcement or ask for a court order to have the guns taken away?
“Can you make that all happen?” Peterson said. “I don't know. I would think we would have a hard time doing that.”
Family members could help by taking it upon themselves to restrict access to firearms when they suspect someone is having problems, Miller and Peterson said. Friends and family notice changes others don’t, and can attempt to put firearms in a safe place for awhile, if necessary.
Peterson and Miller also said prosecutors could do a better job of enforcing existing gun laws.