Texans likely to fight Obama's gun proposal

January 16, 2013 9:29:36 AM PST
A representative from The Woodlands is vowing to file legislation that would make it illegal to enforce federal bans on semi-automatic weapons. Under Republican State Representative Steve Toth's "Firearms Protection Act," anyone trying to enforce federal gun bans could face felony charges.

Toth's announcement comes on the eve of President Barack Obama's unveiling of his initiative to fight gun violence. Some of the so-called concrete steps will address both gun control and mental health care. So how will Texas respond to the recommendations?

Look at the polls. An ABC News-Washington Post poll out this week shows majority support for expanding gun control: 58 percent banning assault weapon sales; 65 percent banning high capacity magazines; and 76 percent background checks on ammo.

There's no breakdown for how Texans feel, but we do know how our governor feels. We look at his suggestion compared to Texas' action.

Before Newtown, Connecticut, it was an Oregon mall. Before that, it was a Wisconsin temple, a Colorado movie theatre, an Arizona grocery store, and a college campus. A list of horrific stops on a highway of tragedy leading up to Wednesday's presidential announcement of new gun control measures.

"What should we be doing to make sure that our children are safe and that we're reducing the incidence of gun violence," President Obama said on Monday.

The White House will release its plan to prevent gun violence Wednesday. On Tuesday afternoon, New York state passed its own measures.

Governor Rick Perry's solution doesn't involve limiting guns at all.

"Is the root cause because there are weapons in the United States? No, there have been weapons in the United States forever. But I would suggest that we need to be looking at this whole mental health issue instead of using the death of these young people to further a political cause," Gov. Perry told us.

If Perry's attention is focused on expanding mental health care in Texas -- it's not easy to find; he offered no new proposal -- funding for Texas mental health services was slashed two years ago and cut again in the budget plan released on Monday.

"It's tragic what we're doing to people," said Dr. Steven Schnee with the Mental Health & Mental Retardation Authority of Harris County

He directs the front line of mental health care for Harris County.

"Through the lack of resources, we end up criminalizing people with mental illness," Dr. Schnee said.

Here 25 percent of our jail inmates are on psychiatric medications. After paying your money to get them better, the mentally ill inmates are released without any way to keep them well.

"They're left where they were in the beginning," said Dr. Michael Seale, Harris County SO Medical Director. "Not taking medication, not able to get to appointments."

There is a way to deal with this -- expanding Medicaid under "Obamacare" would dramatically increase mental health care coverage starting next year. But Texas leaders are blocking the expansion.

"One size fits all doesn't work," said Gov. Perry.

Dr. Schnee estimates he sees less than 10 percent of the people in Harris County who actually need help.

Instead we're left with a system that forces the mentally ill to fight for help they need. And hope they get it before they end up behind bars.

"I am absolutely convinced that we could have a huge impact on the population that ends up in the jail," said Dr. Schnee.

The jail has over 8,000 inmates and 25 percent of them -- or 2,000 inmates -- are on psychiatric medications on any given day. The jail says it costs 10 times as much to treat them in jail as it would in the community. The conversation will go on.
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