Paul Ryan Pushes Changes in Mental Health Care After Colorado Shooting


WASHINGTON — Efforts to overhaul the nation’s approach to mental illness gained momentum on Tuesday as the House speaker, Paul D. Ryan, urged lawmakers to “do more” to protect people after the deadly shooting last week at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado.

“One common denominator in these tragedies is mental illness,” Mr. Ryan said, calling the clinic shooting on Friday, which left three people dead, “appalling.”

“That’s why we need to look at fixing our nation’s mental illness health system,” he said.

While Democrats made it clear they believed that Republicans were avoiding the real problem — lax restrictions on access to guns — Mr. Ryan encouraged lawmakers from both parties to present their ideas to address the problems with mental health care.

He expressed support for an ambitious proposal that would make major changes to the mental health care system. The bill would, among other steps, create an assistant secretary post in the Department of Health and Human Services to coordinate the government’s approach and remedy a shortage of beds in psychiatric hospitals.

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President Obama spoke in person for the first time about the shooting at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado before departing Paris on Tuesday.

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Stephen Crowley/The New York Times

Representative Tim Murphy, the Pennsylvania Republican who is a clinical psychologist and who introduced the bill, spent a year conducting research on the system after the 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. He carried out that study at the request of House Republican leaders; his bill is under consideration by the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

Other proposals include a bill from Senator John Cornyn, Republican of Texas, that would help law enforcement agencies identify and seek treatment for those with mental health problems. An aide to Mr. Cornyn said Tuesday that discussions were underway to potentially combine his proposals with similar legislation.

The clinic shooting, in which a 57-year-old loner, Robert L. Dear Jr., has been charged with murder, left many lamenting the continued lack of legislative action to address the mass shootings that have become all too common.

But Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the Senate Democratic leader, said that while overhauling the mental health care system was important, it was “only remotely connected” to most gun deaths.

“It seems to me any time, and that’s often now, we have one of these horrible murders take place, the Republicans go, ‘Let’s do something about mental health,’ ” Mr. Reid said. “The word ‘gun’ is not mentioned because they’re afraid to mention guns.”

House Democrats indicated that they were likely to oppose Mr. Murphy’s bill to overhaul the mental health system.

“That bill, the Murphy bill, has become unfortunately a partisan bill, when it could have been a totally bipartisan bill,” said Representative Xavier Becerra, Democrat of California. “And that’s unfortunate, because we need to get these done.”

Reacting to the clinic shooting, President Obama on Tuesday repeated his call to make guns less accessible, adding that while political debate about abortion was legitimate, it should be done “without demonizing organizations like Planned Parenthood.”

Mr. Obama, speaking in France, where he was taking part in international talks on climate change, said, “I will continue to present those things that I can do administratively, but in the end of the day, Congress, states, local governments are going to have to act in order to make sure that we’re preventing people who are deranged or have violent tendencies from getting weapons that can magnify the damage that they do.”

He noted that such assaults, and gun killings in general, were far more common in the United States than in other developed countries. “We devote enormous resources, and properly so,” to fighting terrorism, he said, “and yet, in the United States, we have the power to do more to prevent what is just a regular process of gun homicides that is unequaled by multiples of five, six, 10.”

Correction: December 2, 2015

An earlier version of this article, because of incorrect information in the Federal News transcript, attributed incorrectly a quote about Representative Tim Murphy’s bill to overhaul the mental health system. The quote was from Representative Xavier Becerra, Democrat of California, not Representative Eric Swalwell, who is also a Democrat from California.



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