Beyond the heated rhetoric between Republicans and Democrats over President Obama’s executive action on guns, there is an area of agreement: better mental health treatment and some sharing of records. Several Republican Congressmen from North Carolina are co-sponsoring bills that deal with those issues and have some Democratic support.
A key part of President Obama’s executive action is aimed at expanding access to mental health treatment, ensuring federal mental health records are part of the background check system and encouraging states to report relevant information.
"For those in Congress who so often rush to blame mental illness for mass shootings as a way of avoiding action on guns, here’s your chance to support these efforts," Obama said during his speech. "Put your money where your mouth is."
"He’s picked up on what we believe is one of the core problems: mental health issues," says Republican Congressman Robert Pittenger, whose district includes Mooresville and south Charlotte.
To be clear, Pittenger says executive action is the wrong way to do it. He says it’s up to Congress, and he’s co-sponsoring two bills.
"Both of those bills have solid support from the Republican side of the aisle," he says.
The one with the broadest support, commonly called the Murphy bill, would reorganize federal mental health services under one office. It would expand mental illness treatment and training. And it would allow more sharing of records under certain conditions.
It has four other co-sponsors from North Carolina: Patrick McHenry, Richard Hudson, Renee Ellmers and David Rouzer.
It also has nearly 50 co-sponsors who are Democrats. None are from North Carolina though. Democratic Congresswoman Alma Adams, whose district includes Charlotte and Greensboro, says she’s waiting to see what happens.
"You start out with a bill, it gets to committee, it gets amended, and sometimes you may not even recognize it," Adams says. "I think we’ll have to see what the final product is. But if it is going to help address some of the mental health issues, then I’m in support."
Another North Carolina Democrat, Congressman David Price from the Triangle, likes some parts of the Murphy bill. He’s all for making it easier for family members to get information they need about a health crisis.
"On the other hand, you don’t want to redefine privacy rights so that people aren’t going to seek care," he says. "They aren’t going to come forward. I’m afraid maybe the Murphy bill would risk doing that, so these are the kinds of things down in the weeds that we would need to work on with respect to the Murphy bill or really any other approach to this."
Some of the caution coming from Price and other Democrats is also about strategy. They worry Republicans will use mental health legislation as the only solution to gun violence, while Democrats say it’s merely part of the solution.
Regardless, North Carolina representatives from both parties agree Congress has a good shot of passing mental health changes this year.