Bill Lets Police Take Guns From Those in Mental Crisis

Police would have new authority to take firearms away from Texans who are in a mental crisis under a bill the House approved on Tuesday that is now headed to Gov. Rick Perry's desk.

Senate Bill 1189, by state Sen. Joan Huffman, R-Southside Place, would allow police to confiscate guns from people who are experiencing a mental health crisis if they determine the person is a danger to themselves or others. The change is one of many suggested in a report last year by Texas Appleseed, a nonprofit advocacy organization, that called on lawmakers to replace the existing mental health code with one that reflects modern mental health needs.

The current mental health code was last fully revised in 1985. Lawmakers did not attempt a wholesale revision of the code this year, but they did add a significant amount of new funding — about $259 million — for mental health services in the 2014-15 budget and have proposed some modifications to address public safety concerns.

In an interview earlier this year, Lt. Michael Lee of the Houston Police Department said the law should spell out what authority officers have in situations where someone is experiencing a mental health crisis and there are weapons in close proximity.

"It should direct police officers what to do with firearms," he said, adding that law enforcement also needed direction about what to do with weapons once they take them. "Now that we put it in our property rooms, what do we do with that weapon? How do we get it back to that person in a safe manner?"

SB 1189 specifically authorizes police to take weapons and sets up a procedure for returning them to the owner safely. It allows police to investigate whether the person was court ordered to receive inpatient psychiatric treatment, in which case federal law would prohibit them from possessing a firearm. 

With final approval in the House in a 145-1 vote, the measure goes to Perry, who can sign the bill, veto it or allow it to become law without his signature.

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