Ohio House Bill 338: Harmful, helpful or both?

According to www.mentalhealthamerica.net, “Despite the fact that most people with serious mental illnesses are never violent, and 95-97% of gun violence is not caused by a mental illness, the involvement of people with acute mental illnesses in some recent incidents of mass gun violence has become a significant issue in American society,”

On Sept. 17, Ohio House Rep. Dave Greenspan (District 16) announced the introduction of House Bill 338, known as the Mental Health Awareness and Community Violence Protection Act.

I did a double-take at the potential for violation of human rights in Ohio.

So, instead of trying to understand the gabble — Is it really necessary to make legislation so difficult to comprehend? — on the official Ohio government website, I read the PowerPoint presentation option at www.ohiolis.sharefile.com

This is my interpretation of HB 338:

Any person who verbally makes any statement of threat to another person about community violence can be reported to and questioned by police concerning his/her mental health status. Next, the police can request a mental health assessment by a professional. The person can be held up to 24 hours … held where? Next, the person can be taken into custody or taken to a hospital. If the police officer files a petition, the person can be held for up to 72 hours … again, held where? Next, a court hearing date is set no later then three days when the petition is filed.

At the hearing for a potential risk protection order, the petition must prove, by proof beyond a reasonable doubt, that the respondent presents a significant risk …” The potential risk order is for 180 days and can be extended for another 180 days. My questions: Where is the person held during the court process? Jail or hospital? What type of evidence is presented along with a police report and mental health professional assessment report? (evidence and not hearsay). Does the person have access to his/her own attorney from the beginning to the end? No Deadly Weapon(s) is/are Taken into Possession of Law Enforcement without an Order Issued by a Court with the Respondent Present with an Attorney. So, before police can take your gun(s) per HB 338, a court order is needed.

My other questions about HB 338:

Is the person that called the police initially and reported the threat required to show up during the court hearings to show he/she is a reputable source? When is a search warrant issued to search the reported person’s home or vehicle for weapons? If the person denies the threat can he/she be involuntary committed to a psychiatric unit or taken to jail? Can the police and the mental health professional question the person’s family members, friends, coworkers, or others without the person’s written consent? Not showing up to your job for even a few days can result in termination. Can the person call his/her employer? If deemed no-risk during the beginning, middle or end of the proceedings, can the person return to his/her employment without penalty?

Will the Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services, NAMI Ohio (National Alliance on Mental Illness of Ohio), or psychiatrists, psychologists, counselors, and social workers in Ohio be consulted about HB 338?

According to NAMI, “Most people with mental illness are not violent. In fact, people with mental illness are more likely to be the victims of violence. Research on the relationship between mental illness and violence shows that there are certain factors that may increase risks of violence among a small number of individuals with mental illness.” These factors include: co-occurring abuse of alcohol or illegal drugs, past history of violence, being young and male, untreated psychosis.

According to Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine, in reference to community violence, mental health, and guns, “This series of solid, workable reforms will help get guns out of the hands of people who should not have them under the law while protecting the rights of law-abiding citizens who are entitled to the right to bear arms and will help prevent and treat those struggling with mental illness.”

While I applaud DeWine’s proposed legislative to address gun violence and increase mental health prevention, identification, and treatment to better protect Ohioans, I am concerned about House Bill 338.

Of course, we want and need to prevent mass shootings and community violence in Ohio. Of course, we want and need new laws, reformed laws, and enforcement of laws. Of course, we want and need access to mental health services for individuals before a tragedy happens.

However, blaming mental illness for mass killings is bogus.

The Threat Assessment, Prevention and Safety Act (TAPS) has been introduced in the House and Senate to help states and local communities prevent mass attacks by setting up multidisciplinary threat assessment units in each state. This bill will create “a task force of highly experienced threat assessment experts who have been using the methodology successfully for years. They will identify and recommend best practices specifically formulated to work in local communities with the goal of preventing deadly attacks. This will give states, cities and counties the time-tested tools, used by federal agencies, to employ when needed,” according to a 2019 article at www.cnn.com.

I ask again, is Ohio House Bill 338 helpful or harmful or both?


Melissa Martin, Ph.D., is an author, columnist, educator, and therapist. She lives in Ohio.

Melissa Martin, Ph.D., is an author, columnist, educator, and therapist. She lives in Ohio.