As the gun debate continues, so do discussions on the mentally ill. Senate Bill 277 revises a law that prohibits the sale of guns and ammunition to certain people.

"These are people that have been held against their will, they've been diagnosed with mental illness, and they're considered to be a danger to themselves or others."

Republican Senator Ben Kieckhefer is the bill's sponsor. He says today's law is not working as it was intended, and allows many mentally ill to fall through the cracks. "Right now, because there is a lack of commitment by a judge, they can literally walk out of the psychiatric hospital and go purchase a gun."

Mental illness and its connection to firearms access is a discussion both Republicans and Democrats say needs to happen. "It makes absolute sense to me that we close any loopholes and make sure that we are looking at the two together," says Democratic Senator Debbie Smith.

But both parties agree that this bill won't solve all problems -- and it is just one element of a much larger picture.

"It appears to me that mental health bills are certainly one avenue that we need to look at. But we also need to look at access to mental health care, access to prescriptions for mental health patients."

This bill also allows gun restrictions to be lifted once a person can prove they are mentally stable.

Kieckhefer adds, "After three years, a person can go back to the courts and petition to get their rights reinstated and it would be incumbant on the state to prove that they shouldn't have their rights reinstated."

Kieckhefer hopes this bill will mean faster reporting of mentally ill to a national database used for conducting background checks. "When you talk to the average person on the street, they would say that if a person is held against their will, in a psychiatric hospital, then they shouldn't be able to go out and purhase a firearm."

Smith adds, "I do have concerns about gun violence but I don't think there is one solution that is going to fix this problem. Much of it is societal."

Kieckhefer says this bill is very narrow and affects a very small part of the population. He says it adds restrictions but protects second amendment rights.

Written by Paul Nelson