Mental illness and gun control debated after Navy Yard shooting

SEATTLE -- The gunman who killed 12 people and seriously wounded three others at the Washington Navy Yard was, by his own admission, suffering from mental illness.

Just last month in Rhode Island, police were called to a hotel after Aaron Alexis caused a disturbance there, telling police he was hearing voices and thought someone was following him and sending vibrations through his body to keep him awake.

Christen Sinderman, with the Washington Alliance for Gun Responsibility, feels more needs to be done to make sure guns don't end up in the hands of someone who is mentally unstable and could potentially hurt themselves or someone else.

“We have to keep working on this because these problems are not going away and, unfortunately, they’re escalating in many cases,” said Sinderman.

Currently in Washington state, mental health records are submitted into a national database used for gun background checks but only if that person has been involuntarily committed by a court to a mental hospital for at least 14 days.

“You need to have some judicial protections for individuals when something like basic constitutional rights are being denied,” said Amnon Schoenfeld, King County mental health director.

Schoenfeld believes tightening the reporting laws could be detrimental in the long run.

“The danger of going in a direction of anyone who has a mental illness shouldn’t be able to get a firearm is that  it might do more harm than good because people would not seek treatment if they knew that just by talking to a therapist they would be reported into some national database,” said Schoenfeld.

The Legislature passed a bill this year that requires the state to create its own database.  Other measures, including background checks at gun shows and for online sales, failed.

“Every time there’s one of these tragedies, it underscores the need to take action.  Whether it’s an initiative here in Washington state or other states, or a continued effort at the federal level, we have to keep working on this,” said Sinderman.