John Hickenlooper lauded for bringing mental health into gun control talk

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Governor John Hickenlooper is scheduled to speak at today's reopening of the Aurora Century 16, where "an evening of remembrance" will honor the victims of the shootings on July 20 during a screen of The Dark Knight Rises.

Let's hope the event works as well as Hickenlooper's subsequent talk about guns and mental health played in the Wall Street Journal.

Here's the online version of the WSJ editorial published on January 16:

Gun control has been the exclusive political fixation of President Obama's Washington after Newtown, so perhaps readers will be surprised to learn that some states are being more constructive. One of them is Colorado, where Governor John Hickenlooper is promoting an innovative overhaul of his state's mental health-care system.

In his State of the State address last week, the Democrat said that "our democracy demands" a debate over guns, violence and mental illness -- not least in the aftermath of James Holmes's attack on an Aurora movie theater that killed 12 and wounded 58 in July. "Let me prime the pump," Mr. Hickenlooper said. "Why not have universal background checks for all gun sales?"

There was a lot of media attention for that line, but much less for what followed. As Mr. Hickenlooper continued, "It's not enough to prevent dangerous people from getting weapons. We have to do a better job identifying and helping people who are a threat to themselves and others." His office spent the last five months developing a detailed $18.5 million plan to modernize civil commitment laws while expanding community-based mental health treatment.

The first leg would combine Colorado's three involuntary treatment laws into one streamlined, clarified process and lower the legal threshold to "substantial probability" from "imminent danger." This new burden of proof would protect civil liberties but also make it easier for health-care providers, law enforcement and the courts to ensure that the seriously disturbed get the help they need.

A month prior to Holmes's rampage his University of Colorado psychiatrist broke doctor-patient confidentiality to tell campus police about his fantasies about killing "a lot of people," as Denver's 7News and the Denver Post reported in December. But the doctor rejected an offer to place him on a 72-hour psychiatric hold, for reasons that are unclear.

Mr. Hickenlooper also said that mental health commitment records would be cross-checked in real time with background checks for gun purchases. And all this would be coupled with better treatment options, including more public hospital beds, more specialists in the state's mental health institutions, and five 24-hour psychiatric crisis centers. The Hickenlooper plan would create a better off-ramp for people emerging from care such as more case management, counselling and behavioral rehabilitation.

Good luck finding any mention of any of this from the national press corps. On Monday one newspaper ran a lengthy dispatch on Colorado as "a reluctant crucible for the battle over guns" but didn't find it fit to print a single word about Mr. Hickenlooper's mental health ideas. They received the gloss of a single paragraph in another Colorado gun-control story last week.

Mr. Obama unveils his new gun-control measures as early as Wednesday. But Mr. Hickenlooper's reform effort is likely to make far more progress reducing gun violence and caring for civil society than another reactionary, unthinking guns-only debate.

This is the second WSJ editorial on Hickenlooper's response to the Aurora shootings; the first lauded his "wise words" on national news shows right after the tragedy.

From our archives: "Aurora shooting: Jordan Ghawi, brother of victim, says boycott of Cinemark is 'ridiculous.'"

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