Updated 5:50 p.m. | Speaker John A. Boehner Thursday morning said that Congress had recently passed a provision to address whether people with mental health issues have access to weapons, but the measure’s Republican author said his bill actually does nothing of the sort.
Rep. Tim Murphy, R-Pa., told CQ-Roll Call that despite Boehner’s assertion, his measure to incentivize outpatient treatment for mental health issues has nothing to do with keeping guns out of the hands of the severely mentally ill.
“Not our bill, no. It’s a whole different issue,” Murphy said. “I think he confused that. When he said that it dealt with it, I think he confused that.”
At his regular weekly press conference, Boehner was asked whether Congress should act to address Wednesday’s mass shooting at Fort Hood . He responded by telling reporters that Congress approved “funding for a pilot project dealing with mental health issues and weapons” as part of the “doc fix” deal to keep doctor pay from being cut.
“There’s no question that those with mental health issues should be prevented from owning weapons or being able to purchase weapons,” Boehner said. “This issue we need to continue to look at to find ways to keep weapons out of the hands of people who should not have them.”
When asked to what Boehner was referring, his staff pointed to language in the “doc fix” that established a pilot program to provide grants for assisted outpatient treatment programs under which certain people with serious mental illness receive court-ordered treatment while still living in a community. The bill passed the House under a cloud of controversy last week and has been signed by President Barack Obama.
“There is a clear nexus between improving mental health and preventing this kind of crime,” Boehner’s spokesman Michael Steel said. “As the Speaker has noted in previous on-camera press conferences, if you look at each of these tragic incidents over the last several years, the mental health of the perpetrator was clearly an issue.”
The language is part of a larger rewrite of the mental health system Murphy introduced days before the one-year anniversary of the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting. But Murphy, a clinical psychologist, said the pilot program would do nothing to keep weapons out of the hands of the mentally ill.
“A person who is adjudicated or found mentally incompetent … that is grounds for you not to be able to purchase a weapon. If you voluntarily sign yourself in you can still purchase one,” Murphy explained. “What this provision that I had in there allows in states is an outpatient treatment for patients who have a risk of past incarceration or past multiple hospitalizations where they were a safety risk, to work to say, ‘We need to get you back in treatment, get your life back together.’ That does not necessarily preclude or affect anything about a person’s ability to own a gun, unless they also have a history of being put in against their will.”
The Fort Hood shooter, identified late Wednesday as Spc. Ivan Lopez, had mental health issues and was being treated for anxiety and depression. He was under evaluation for post-traumatic stress disorder, but had not yet been diagnosed, according to media reports. He served four months in Iraq, but saw no combat.
Murphy said that from what he has read about Lopez, state law in Texas would have done nothing to preclude him from owning a gun and that his own bill would also not have addressed the issue.
Murphy has in the past has linked his proposals to gun violence. Just before announcing his legislation, he said the deadly Navy Yard shootings “raised the issues of how we are handling mental health to stop this terrible violence .”
After the Sandy Hook shooting, Congress faced intense pressure to act on gun control. Top House Republicans, however, declined to move gun control measures , while Senate Democrats tried and failed. Boehner said at the time that the House should focus on mental health issues rather than gun control. Soon after, Murphy began crafting his legislation, which has stalled in the months since.
The "doc fix" bill also included a demonstration project designed to expand access to community mental health services, a plan based on Senate legislation introduced by Michigan Democrat Debbie Stabenow and Missouri Republican Roy Blunt. The bill was expected to be considered as part of the Senate gun measure before it was blocked.
Melissa Attias contributed to this report.