Saturday, February 1, 2014

Clerk Of The Circuit Court's Message: A Positive Step In Firearms Legislation

By Pat Frank

As I write this article for the upcoming issue of the Lawyer magazine, I see by the calendar date that we are approaching the one-year anniversary of the killing rampage in Sandy Hook, Connecticut, when 20 young children and six adults were murdered at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

Unfortunately, that is not an isolated incident.  There have been similar frightening instances this past year of individuals with histories of mental illness who went on shooting rampages.

One way to help prevent these random acts of violence is to tighten up the laws regulating the purchase of firearms.  This past session, the Florida Legislature passed an amendment, which took effect on July 1, 2013, that addressed the circumstances and conditions for prohibiting people from purchasing firearms if they have been voluntarily admitted to a Baker Act receiving facility and the examining physician deems that they are an imminent danger to themselves or someone else.

The challenge is how to best collect, qualify, and report information for the purpose of firearm purchase determinations nationwide ― and how to develop a communication and training plan on behalf of reporting agencies to assist with implementation.

I am proud to say that in the state of Florida, Robin McCarty, manager of the clerk’s Mental Health Department, has been recognized for her work with the MECOM database, which is the Mental Competency database, established in February 2007.  Due to Robin’s efforts, Hillsborough County is leading the state in reports of voluntary commitments, with 375 thus far.

For her leadership, she was asked by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to serve on a work group for Hillsborough County, representing the clerk’s office, along with General Magistrate Sean Cadigan of the Thirteenth Judicial Circuit, representing the judiciary; Gracepoint, representing Baker Act receiving facilities; and other state agencies.  The group is assigned the task of how to implement this amendment ― collecting, qualifying, and reporting information on firearm purchases by individuals prohibited from doing so.

“Our group is trying to not only identify the practices but also trying to educate the key groups, including the mental health community, doctors, hospitals, and the judiciary, as well as the clerk offices throughout the state,” Robin said.

“We are also going to conduct training throughout the state to spread the word.  It is so important to prevent people who are not supposed to be getting a gun from being able to get one,” she emphasized.

Robin has conducted training for members of the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office Crisis Intervention Team to update them on the new legislation.  Along with other members of the training team, Robin is conducting similar statewide training that began in mid-January.  She has also created a form for the officers to hand out, which outlines the steps for petitioners to follow for both the Baker and Marchman Acts.      

This legislation will not prevent all senseless killings, but it is certainly a step in the right direction, and our office is proud to be on the cutting edge.