A troubling revelation has broken regarding a mental health bill recently defeated in Connecticut during this calendar year. Had it passed, that bill could have possibly taken Adam Lanza off the streets so he would not have been free to commit his heinous act on December 14.
In February 2012, Connecticut Senate Bill 452 (SB452) was put forward to remedy the fact that Connecticut was one of less than ten states in the U.S. to lack an “assisted outpatient treatment” (AOT) law. As David Stein has pointed out, there are just six states that lack such a law.
But the bill was passed to Connecticut’s Joint Committee on Judiciary in March, where it quietly faded away because of opposition by those who viewed it as “egregious” and “outrageously discriminatory.”
Had this law passed, it may have forced Adam Lanza to be treated for his alleged mental illness instead of allowing him to roam free, and ultimately to kill 26 persons and himself in a vindictive rage on Friday.
Although there is some variation, the way these laws work in other states is simple: AOT laws preempt older statutes that only allow the mentally ill to be forcibly institutionalized for treatment if they’ve done harm to themselves or others. This is possible because AOT laws allow a state to institutionalize a mentally ill person for treatment if the state has reason to suspect such institutionalization will prevent the individual from doing harm to self or others.
Why didn’t the legislation pass? Because the ACLU and other “civil liberties” groups and individuals cried foul. The ACLU in particular said 452 would “infringe on patients’ privacy rights by expanding [the circle of] who can medicate individuals without their consent.” They also said it infringed on patient rights by reducing the number of doctors’ opinions necessary to commit someone to institutionalization.
To be clear, no one can know that the passage of SB452 would have stopped Lanza for sure, as there’s no guarantee a doctor or mental specialist would have seen the warning signs in time to institutionalize him for treatment.
However, it is worth noting that proponents of SB452 had the prevention of situations like Friday’s shooting in mind when they tried to provide Connecticut residents with another layer of protection from the mentally ill (and criminal).