A new bill in front of the South Dakota State Legislature could restrict mentally ill individuals deemed "dangerous" from purchasing fire arms.
House Bill 1188 calls for the South Dakota Human Services Center to follow a list of guidelines to decide if a mentally ill person is "dangerous". If a person is deemed dangerous in a hearing conducted by the Yankton County Board of Mental Illness, their right to bear arms will be rescinded.
South Dakota Senator Mark Johnston is a co-sponsor of the bill; he says South Dakota is one of only a handful of state that does not have this type of database already in place.
Johnston says this bill will add mentally-ill residents deemed "dangerous" to the national database of all persons restricted from purchasing firearms. That list includes convicted felons, fugitives, unlawful users of controlled substances, convicted domestic violence offenders, illegal immigrants and dishonorably discharged members of the armed forces.
Other lawmakers who support the bill say it is an important topic to discuss, but a very difficult one as well.
"You don't want to take away someone's right to own or use a weapon if you don't need to so how you go about establishing that and certifying it and making that known, that's a serious question," said Representative Karen Soli.
Even with a specific definition, Phyllis Arends with South Dakota's National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) says the bill is still a step in the wrong direction.
"This legislation tries to be very specific, but the general public doesn't make that leap...they hear something like this and they hear the words mentally ill and restricting firearms, then they make the jump to, o my gosh, everyone with a mental illness is going to go out and kill people," said Arends.
Arends says the recent tragedy in Connecticut has brought a lot of attention to mental illness, but she believes this bill is focusing the state's efforts in the wrong direction.
"If we had a mental health system where people with mental health issues could get identified, could get treatments that work, we wouldn't need these bills," said Arends.
She would like to see the definitions used to define a "dangerous" person in HB 1188 added to legislation that is already in place instead of creating a separate bill that targets mental illness.
"If someone happens to have a mental illness and fits into those criteria for not having a weapon, just use that method," said Arends.
The House Human Services Committee will be discussing this bill over the coming weeks.
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