Oct 2, 2015 12:40 PM

First on NH1 News: After school shooting, Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-NH, renews her call for tougher mental health screening


CONCORD – After 10 people were gunned down Thursday afternoon at an Oregon community college, gun legislation is once again at the forefront of a national debate.

“As Americans, we have a responsibility to work to reduce gun violence and to prevent these horrible events that now happen all too frequently. We need a comprehensive response to this culture of violence, including better access to mental health services and common sense reforms to our nation’s gun laws,” Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-NH, said in a statement.

And as NH1 News first reports, Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-NH, responded to the shooting spree carnage with a renewed call for her legislation to provide grants to train community officials to identify mental illness symptoms and early warning signs of a crisis so they can direct individuals to proper treatment.

“I am deeply saddened by the horrific tragedy at Umpqua Community College," Ayotte said in a statement to NH1 News.

"While details surrounding this terrible incident are still forthcoming, we must do more to prevent violence before it occurs. Earlier this year, I reintroduced the Mental Health First Aid Act, bipartisan legislation to expand mental health first aid training and help the public identify, understand, and address crisis situations safely. A modified version of the bill was included in the Mental Health Awareness and Improvement Act, legislation I cosponsored which passed the Senate HELP Committee earlier this week.

And Ayotte said there's a second avenue on Capitol Hill for action on this front.

"Provisions of the Mental Health First Aid Act were also included in the Senate-passed education reform bill, which would allow school personnel to have the tools they need to identify warning signs and help direct individuals to proper treatment before tragedies occur," Ayotte added.

In 2013 Sen. Kelly Ayotte addressed federal gun laws, asking for more attention to identifying mentally ill people who pose a risk for mass shootings. Ayotte’s original introduction of the Mental Health First Aid Act in 2013, called for these programs.

In April 2013, the bill Sen. Ayotte proposed to address mental health issues was part of a larger mental health bill that got over 90 votes in the Senate, but still the proposal was not passed by Congress.

Senate Democrats, in the wake of the Sandy Hook shooting in Newtown, CT, wanted to universally require background checks including at gun shows and on the internet.

In response, a gun control organization run by former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg spent $2 million in attack ads against Ayotte for opposing the background check vote.

Ayotte along with all Senate Republicans and four Senate Democrats opposed the move at the time. Ayotte stressed her vote for a different expansion of the background check system.

The alternative Ayotte voted for from Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-IA, did not close the gun show or Internet sales loopholes but instead focused on encouraging states to submit mental health information to the background check database.

“Some of my colleagues want to expand the broken background check system we have now,” Ayotte wrote in May 2003. “In my view, we shouldn’t be expanding a flawed system. The focus should be on fixing the existing system, which criminals are flouting.”

Currently, residents of NH only have to fill out the federal background check questionnaire, not a state questionnaire in order to purchase a gun. The federal background check includes one question asking if the purchaser has ever been deemed mentally defected or committed to a mental health institution.

However, the federal questionnaire does not include any questions regarding the status on family members, specifically children in the home of the purchaser.

Should federal background checks be required to ask if someone close to the gun purchaser has a history of mental health? Take the NH1 Poll here.


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