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Gun Control Debate Stuck on Mental Health Reform

Murphy is one of the Democrats out in front on mental health legislation. (Al Drago/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

At first glance Democrats seem to oppose mental health reform in response to mass shootings. Many in the Senate say they embrace such reform, but they'd rather close loopholes in gun laws first. The result, however, is no movement on either gun control or mental health.  

Democrats used much of Thursday's Obamacare repeal vote-a-rama to push gun control amendments in response to a spate of mass shootings. Most of those measures didn’t have a lot to do with mental health. Sen. Christopher S. Murphy, D-Conn., one of the most outspoken advocates of gun control following the murder of 20 children and six adults at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn. in 2012, is working with Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La., to increase funding to states t hat meet treatment goals .  

Murphy said that Democrats are interested in mental health, but argued that things like closing gun show loop holes or blocking people suspected of terrorism from purchasing firearms is easier to do immediately than an overhaul of the mental health system. Still, "I think all of my colleagues recognize that fixing the broken mental health system is an element of a strategy to attack gun violence."  

Cornyn Pushes Mental Health Measures in Wake of Oregon Shooting

On Wednesday, in response to the shooting that killed 14 people and injured 21 in San Bernardino, Calif., Speaker Paul D. Ryan, R-Wis., said that House Republicans were already working on mental health legislation. And on Thursday, Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., said that mental health legislation may be introduced in the new year.  

"When you get the speaker talking about it, and when you get members of our leadership talking about it, it's something whose time has come," Thune said.  

The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee had a hearing on mental health in October. Chairman Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., called the Murphy/Cassidy bill "a serious proposal," and said parts of it could be included in a more comprehensive bill.  

"We're fairly well along in our discussions; we plan to take it up soon," Alexander said. "There's no magic wand that we could wave that would stop the gun violence in the United States, and the mental health issue is larger than dealing with mentally incompetent people who have guns."

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