Senator Cornyn reframes gun debate using Travis County mental health programs

Travis County's mental health and jail diversions programs are being used to frame the latest gun regulation debate.

The round table discussion organized by Senator John Cornyn Monday morning in a Travis County courtroom was not so much about gathering ideas but seemed to be about protecting 2nd Amendment rights.

"Well, a gun is an inanimate object, and in the hands of a law abiding citizen are no threat to public safety,” said Senator Cornyn.

To shift the focus of the gun debate to the person pulling the trigger Senator Cornyn met with representatives from law enforcement and community health agencies.

"Actually I’ve been surprised at the extent to which mental health pervasive the criminal justice system,” said the Senator.

Cornyn modeled much of his Mental Health and Safe Communities Act after programs currently used in Travis County. The group was flattered, but Jason Steams with the County Attorney's Office also offered a warning.

"It’s not that hard to get the people to go into the program , a week two weeks, but to get them to stay in a program for 6 months a year 2 years, you really need to get the person used to it , managing their own meds and that's one of the hardest parts,” said Steans.

Karen Ranus-  told the senator about how she struggled to find help for her daughter.

"Treatment really does work, and recovery is possible, but families like mine can’t do it alone. We need a really robust mental health system which focuses on early intervention and treatment; we need community education that elevates mental health to the same level as physical health. We need to create communities of support that no longer isolate and shame families who living with these serious mental illnesses,” said Ranus.

Many who cannot find help end up in jail. On a typical day, according to Sheriff Greg Hamilton, 30% of those in the county lock-up receive some type of mental health counseling.

“I believe it’s working, an one of the things I’ll say is I talked about the counselor intake officers that we are going to have, I think one of the things that has been happening is that some individuals seem to be slipping through the cracks and I believe once we bring on more individuals to assist us in screening I think we are going to find that big number is going to continue to go up,” said Sheriff Hamilton.

The Senator's plan does not provide new federal funding but re-directs money that’s already in the budget.

"What I’m trying to do is find a way to break the log jam between people like me  who are strong 2nd Amendment advocates an those who don't want to do anything and prefer to have a political debate that's endless and never ends up giving us a solution,” said Senator Cornyn.

The Senator “s legislation will also require a faster back ground check and a judicial hearing to determine whether or not a person is a danger before prohibiting them from purchasing or possessing a firearm.