Lawmaker wants mental health check for conceal-carry applicants
Individuals who want a state-issued permit to carry a concealed gun in Florida would first have to pass a mental health evaluation under a new proposal from a Miami-Dade County senator.
The measure (SB 956) comes six weeks after a gunman who had shown signs of mental illness shot and killed five people and injured six others in a baggage claim area of Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport.
State Sen. Daphne Campbell, D-Miami Shores, said the impetus for her proposal came not only from the airport shooting but the ongoing gun violence in Miami-Dade — such as in her district, which includes Liberty City.
“Everybody’s talking about gun violence, but what do we do about it?” Campbell said. “We have to do something. ... It’s crucial. People’s lives are in jeopardy. How are we going to protect our people? That’s why I add this piece to make it harder and stricter on people who want to get a gun permit.”
About 20 gun-related proposals have been filed for the upcoming 2017 legislative session, but Campbell’s is the first related to mental health — particularly in the wake of the Fort Lauderdale shooting.
The suspected shooter, Esteban Santiago, had previously told FBI officials in Alaska that he’d heard voices, which led him to be treated temporarily in a mental health facility. (His attorneys told a federal judge this week that he is mentally competent.)
After the tragedy in Fort Lauderdale last month, Florida’s elected leaders — including Gov. Rick Scott — were reluctant to propose concrete changes to state law, despite a spoken desire to better restrict people diagnosed with severe mental illness from accessing guns.
Campbell’s bill does not require a mental health evaluation for people to own or purchase guns.
She said a mental health screening when applying for a concealed weapons permit is necessary because although someone might pass a background check or might not have a criminal record, she said: “You might be mental and nobody knows if you’re mental.”
“If we do not have a very strict law on gun permits, trust me, the situation for gun violence is not going to stop,” Campbell said.
It’s unlikely her plan will go far without the endorsement of the powerful National Rifle Association. Leaders of Florida’s Republican-led Legislature are friendly with the NRA and more commonly in favor of reducing restrictions on gun owners, than imposing additional ones.
Neither Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, nor Marion Hammer, the NRA’s Tallahassee lobbyist, returned requests for comment Friday morning.
Negron has not yet assigned Campbell’s bill to committees for review. The bill, filed Wednesday, also does not yet have a House companion, which is typically required for legislation to have a chance at becoming law.
More than 1.7 million people have concealed weapons permits in Florida, the most of any state.
Campbell’s measure adds an additional criteria for those seeking a concealed-weapons permit in Florida by requiring them — at their own cost — to undergo an evaluation by a clinical psychologist or psychiatrist. That medical professional would then have to declare the individual “competent and of sound mind,” or that person would be denied a concealed weapons permit.
Current law already prohibits individuals from getting a permit if they have been adjudicated mentally ill within five years or if they have been committed to a mental institution, unless a psychiatrist certifies the person hasn’t suffered from a mental disability for at least five years.