Cornyn was referencing the multipronged approach his bill takes. It seeks to strengthen the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, or NICS, to clarify the scope of mental-health records required to be uploaded and gives states financial incentive to share those records. Currently, states are not required to share this information, which sometimes allows weapons to fall into the wrong hands. He has already garnered the support of the National Rifle Association and the National Alliance on Mental Illness.
But the bill also addresses the issue of the incarcerated mentally ill by helping state and local governments identify and treat them, and then also help them transition out of custody, which NAMI cited as the more important part of the bill.
"I know violence gets a lot of headlines, but for the most part we're talking about people who have committed crimes — a lot of times nonviolent crimes — that result from a lack of treatment for their severe mental illness," said Ron Honberg, NAMI's national director of policy and legal affairs. "Instead of processing them and incarcerating them, which is almost guaranteed to make their symptoms worse, this bill would concentrate some resources into jail diversion and linking people with much-needed supports."
There are now several mental-health-reform measures vying for attention. Cornyn's has joined a comprehensive reform bill from GOP Sen. Bill Cassidy and Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy, and a narrower Senate bill from GOP Sen. Lamar Alexander and Democratic Sen. Patty Murray, as well as Republican Rep. Tim Murphy's reform bill in the House. The Alexander-Murray bill is scheduled for a markup on Thursday, and House Energy and Commerce Chairman Fred Upton has said mental health will come up in committee after recess.
It seems that mental-health reform is a uniting topic, one that might actually create momentum in a slow-moving Congress.
"Isn't it great that there is shared concern regarding mental health?" Cassidy said when asked about Cornyn's bill. "It ... means there is a widespread recognition of lots of problems with how we're currently addressing mental health. And if they've got great ideas, and we've got great ideas, let's perhaps even combine to get a better bill."
"If in fact we're going to address mental health in the prison systems in a constructive way "¦ I would love to see that," said Democratic Sen. Jon Tester, who had not yet seen Cornyn's legislation but responded to it based on a brief description.
But there will almost certainly be debate over whether Cornyn's bill — or any other for that matter — goes far enough. Sen. Chuck Schumer plans to introduce legislation allowing the Justice Department to create rewards and penalties for states that submit or don't submit records into NICS, whereas the Cornyn bill addresses only mental-health records.