Bob Pyles, Warren Procci and Mark Smaller (current, past and incoming presidents) visited with staff for Senators Toomey (R-PA), Manchin (D-WV) and Blunt (R-MO) on Friday, June 7 and presented APsaA’s recommendations regarding the mental health portion of the gun control legislation, S. 689. That legislation failed to pass the Senate by a close vote on April 17, but is likely to come before the Senate again before the end of the year, after the senate decides what to do on immigration reform. All three visits were extremely successful with the staff members welcoming APsaA’s recommendations and indicating that no other group had made such recommendations. They also expressed appreciation that we were focusing on the mental health part of the bill where we have the most expertise.
APsaA's recommendations essentially were (a) provide parents and teachers with a set of danger signs to be used to identify young people who might be suffering from a mental illness and are a threat for violence, (b) provide licensed mental health practitioners with a set of criteria to guide their evaluations of young people who are referred to them, (c) revise the National Instant Criminal Background Check (NICS) system so that only the mentally ill who are determined to be a threat for violence have their names included in that data base, and (d) change the name of the data base so that the mentally ill do not have their names sent to a “criminal” background database.
We met first with Ben Kochman of Senator Toomey’s staff, and he was very receptive to our comments and recommendations and said he wished we had come in sooner so that our recommendations could have been incorporated into the bill initially. He was not sure that the bill would be brought up again but indicated that the Senator would likely incorporate our recommendations if it did.
We next met with Kimberly Waller on Senator Joe Manchin’s staff, and she was also very receptive to our recommendations. She indicated that she is a social worker by training and was impressed that social workers could be analysts. She confirmed that the Senator will make another attempt this year to pass S. 689 and that our ideas would be an improvement in the bill. We know that Senator Manchin has been talking to Senator Blunt about changing his “no” vote on S. 689. I promised to send her legislative language.
Finally, we met with Courtney Houston-Carter of Senator Blunt’s staff. He was initially unresponsive to our presentation but he said that the Senator was very interested in passing some type of legislation and was reading about mass shootings to educate himself. I promised to send him our background paper. Then he asked us to review an amendment that senate republicans are putting together. He said he would give our recommendations to Senator Blunt and that he might want to include them in the Republican amendment. He said if I sent him our background paper, he would send us their amendment for comment.
The response to ApsaA's visity was uniformly positive. Bob, Mark and Warren were terrific and immediately established strong credibility with staff in all three offices. APsaA now has an excellent chance to materially influence the final legislation. One never gets everything that one wants in legislation passed by Congress, but APsaA has a good opportunity to make this legislation better.