Garnet Coleman: Why John Cornyn is Wrong on Guns and Mental Illness

State Rep. Garnet Coleman. Photo by Joshua Guerra/Texas Standard

State Rep. Garnet Coleman, D-Houston, has been a champion of social services during his time in the Legislature.

He helped secure millions of dollars for at-risk child care service throughout the state, is a member of the Public Health Committee and an advocate for mental healthcare.

It’s against that backdrop that Rep. Coleman says U.S. Sen. John Cornyn’s new bill, the Mental Health and Safe Communities Act — meant to keep guns away from potentially dangerous people with mental illness — is creating a “fear factor.”

The bill would increase identification and early treatment for people with a mental illness — people who could potentially be dangerous to themselves or others. The bill also seeks to strengthen the already existing background check system. (You can see our conversation with Sen. Cornyn here: Sen. John Cornyn Has a New Bill Aimed at Stopping Gun Violence)

Coleman says the need for preventative mental health care goes beyond Sen. Cornyn’s bill: it’s not just about identifying and treating those who could be dangerous.

“If he’s saying these are the things that you have to do to get rid of mass shootings — no this is not what you have to do,” Coleman says. “You have to start treating people early.“

Coleman passed a bill in 2011 that mandated training for public school staff — teachers, counselors and principals — to help them identify changes in a student’s behavior. Once the school staff identifies a need, students are referred to a professional who can help.

“Those are things that I think have more value,” he says. “Just because someone has a mental illness, and they come out and you put a gun in their hand — I don’t think that’s a good idea, but I do believe that we should treat people earlier.”

Rep. Garnet Coleman will be speaking on the “Health & Human Services and the Legislature” panel on Saturday, October 17.

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