Mental Health vs. Privacy in Aftermath of Conn. Shootings

By: Jillian Risberg Email
By: Jillian Risberg Email

Mental illness and mass shootings, there's a common thread and one that can't be overlooked in the effort to stop gun violence.

"It was a terrible thing that happened in Connecticut and I'm not sure how you control things better except to provide better mental health services," says David Cisler, privacy officer at Westbrook Health Services. "I'm not sure that you can resolve this problem by just gun control."

Getting your hands on a gun means giving up a part of yourself.

"The information that's going to be provided is just going to be by nature very very private," Cisler says.

You're stepping into murky waters.

"Where's that information going? What kind of control is there on that information? Who's going to be collecting it? At what point is that information gonna get sent to other people without your permission," Cisler says.

Mental health screenings versus protecting people's privacy before buying a gun, the debate rages on.

"People who have any kind of problem, whether it be mental health or a physical health problem that affects their behavior or any of these other kinds of things... can still get guns," Cisler says.

NICS (National Instant Criminal Check System) registry includes anyone with a criminal background or previously committed to a psychiatric hospital in the FBI database.

"When you fill out a background check to buy a gun it goes in there; they have three days to get back to the gun shop," says Kimberly Dixon, director of crisis and disaster services at Westbrook.

When it comes to your private information, you're still somewhat protected.

"They either get a yes or no," Dixon says. "The gun shop doesn't know why you've been refused if you've been refused, but it's pretty much final. You're not going to be able to buy a gun through a licensed dealer."

Agencies like Westbrook ensure records are confidential and under lock and key. Uncovering a person's mental health background for gun ownership is no exception.

"There's a certain level of request for a medical record that the federal government enforces under HIPAA laws and other confidentiality requirements," Dixon says. "Mental health kinda goes one step further."


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