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Poll: 92% of voters want gun background checks

Americans overwhelmingly support requiring background checks for all gun buyers – so long as you don’t call it “gun control,” according to a Quinnipiac University national poll released Thursday.

The poll of 1,446 registered voters nationwide found 92 percent support universal background checks with only 7 percent opposed; the poll, conducted June 24-30, has a 2.6-percentage point margin of error. Among gun owners, support for universal background checks is 92 percent; among Republicans, 86 percent; and among Democrats, 98 percent, the poll found.

Also, 89 percent of U.S. voters support laws to prevent people with mental illness from buying guns; 91 percent of gun owners support this idea.

Yet when asked if they support “stricter gun control laws,” 50 percent said yes and 47 percent said no.

“Americans are all in on stricter background checks on gun buyers and on keeping weapons out of the hands of the mentally ill,” said Tim Malloy, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Poll. “But when it comes to ‘stricter gun control,’ three words which prompt a negative reflex, almost half of those surveyed say ‘hands off.’”

The U.S. Senate last year rejected an amendment that would have expanded background checks to online and gun-show sales. H.R. 1565, a similar, bipartisan House measure co-authored by Rep. Mike Thompson, D-Napa, has 188 cosponsors, but Republican House leaders have refused to put it to a vote.

Thompson issued a statement Thursday saying that “as a hunter, gun owner and supporter of the Second Amendment,” he’s proud to count himself among the 92 percent supporting universal background checks. He said it’s time that GOP House members heed that overwhelming call “and bring our bill up for a vote – because if the Republican Majority would allow a vote, my bill would pass.”

Dan Gross, president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, said the new poll “reaffirms what we all already know.”

“It is almost unthinkable that, despite such overwhelming public support, Congress continues to put the interests of the corporate gun lobby ahead of the safety of the American people and will not even vote on expanding background checks to online sales and gun shows,” he said. “It is time we come together and hold the NRA lapdogs accountable for the lives that are being lost every day because of their despicable behavior.”

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More commitment needed to house mentally ill

California’s $400 million effort to build homes for mentally ill, chronically homeless people is on track to house and support about 2,500 as expected, but expanding it to meet the state’s goal of eventually helping 10,000 will mean squeezing budgetary blood from a stone, a new legislative report says.

The state Senate Office of Oversight and Outcomes’ report, released today, says the Mental Health Services Act housing program launched in 2007 already has paid dividends: As of April, counties had spent $146 million of the money to create 870 units of housing. The $146 million includes enough money to subsidize rent and maintenance costs at the 870 apartments and homes for at least 15 years. And according to the California Housing Finance Agency, 21 completed projects housed 220 mental health clients as of last month.

Experts see this kind of “permanent supportive housing” as a cornerstone to ending homelessness, and the housing costs are offset in time by savings from emergency rooms, jails, hospitals and psychiatric centers.

But county mental health departments are being devastated by budget cuts, and in many cases lack the expertise, to make the regular, large investments necessary to build or renovate 10,000 units by 2027, a goal voiced by former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2007.

Counties fund the Mental Health Services Act housing program through a 2004 initiative that taxes millionaires to pay for mental health services. Proposition 63 does not require county mental health departments to build housing for their homeless clients, but counties agreed in 2007 to make a one-time $400 million investment – money that otherwise could have paid for counseling, medication, and other direct services for mentally ill Californians.

That’s worked out well in urban counties. Alameda County has spent most of its $14,619,200 allocation, while Contra Costa and Santa Clara counties each have spent only about half of their shares, which were $9,130,800 and $19,249,300 respectively.

But the new report shows counties’ interest in maintaining that investment beyond the initial $400 million is being eclipsed by pressure to use what meager funds they have left on direct, immediate services; lack of experience with housing development; and a tough application and approval process.

Rural county officials are least happy with the program as is: The $400 million was split up based mostly on population, and so smaller 11 counties got less than $1 million each. They’ve struggled to attract non-profit developers, to find people in their government ranks with housing experience, and to comply with rules set by the state Department of Mental Health and the CalHFA.

This report recommends that state agencies relax rules for these smallest 11 counties

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Stark co-hosts mental health meeting for Congress

May is National Mental Health Awareness Month, and so Rep. Pete Stark – ranking Democrat on the Ways and Means Health Subcommittee and member of the Congressional Mental Health Caucus – joined today with caucus co-chair Grace Napolitano, D-Norwalk, to host a “Mental Health First-Aid” workshop for members of Congress and their staffs.

The comprehensive, four-hour session taught participants the warning signs of mental illness and gave them an overview of what those suffering from mental illness experience and how they can be helped.

“Education is the best weapon against stigma. One of the reasons mental health disorders can be so challenging to handle is because the illness often prevents the person from understanding they need help,” Stark, D-Fremont, said in a news release. “I know from dealing with situations in my own office how upsetting it can be, for my staff and my constituents both, when we don’t understand what someone needs or how we can help. Knowing how to recognize the signs of mental illness and how best to respond are critical to helping us provide the kind of service our constituents deserve.”

The workshop’s information was presented by the National Council for Community Behavioral Healthcare. President and CEO Linda Rosenberg and public education director Bryan Gibb explained how to recognize the most common mental health issues, including anxiety, depression, and psychosis, and how to direct those that need help to care if those issues are detected.

“People may know CPR or the Heimlich Maneuver, but the truth is they are more likely to come across someone in an emotional crisis than someone having a heart attack. Mental Health First Aid emphasizes that mental illnesses are real, common, and treatable, and that help is available,” Rosenberg said.

Despite the flurry of cheap shots about Stark, Democrats and mental illness that’s sure to ensue in this post’s comments, it’s no laughing matter. Stark’s office notes that one out of four Americans suffers from a mental health issue, according to a 2005 Harvard study; suicide is the third-leading cause of death for people ages 15 to 24, according to the National Institute of Health; and more than 90 percent of people who die by suicide have diagnosable mental disorders, often depression or a substance-abuse problem, according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. Yet while mental health disorders cost the U.S. economy $193 billion in lost earnings per year, according to the American Journal of Psychiatry, state mental health programs were cut nationally by 4 percent in 2009, by 5 percent in 2010, and are estimated to be cut by more than 8 percent this year, according to Stateline.org.

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Today’s Congressional odds and ends

Stark co-authors mental-health bill: Rep. Pete Stark, D-Fremont, was joined by Rep. Mary Bono Mack, R-Palm Springs, and Rep. Dave Camp, R-Mich., today in introducing the Healthy Transitions Act of 2009, which he says will help millions of young adults with mental illness who fall through the cracks when moving from youth into adulthood. This bill is a response to last year’s Government Accountability Office report (requested by Stark and then-Sen. Gordon Smith, R-Ore.) which found that the nation’s estimated 2.4 million young adults with serious mental illness have a hard time finding services to aid them during their transition to adulthood because services that are available for mental health, housing and employment are not always suited for and directed to their age group. The bill would offer planning grants to states to develop coordination plans and implementation grants to execute those plans, as well as create a committee to coordinate federal programs helping mentally ill adolescents and young adults; to provide technical aid to states; and to report back to Congress.

Woolsey to testify on oil spills: Rep. Lynn Woolsey, D-Petaluma, will be among those testifying Thursday at a House Science and Technology Subcommittee on Energy and Environment hearing entitled “A New Direction for Federal Oil Spill Research and Development,” examining current federal efforts to prevent, detect and mitigate spills. Woolsey will speak on behalf of her new Federal Oil Spill Research Program Act of 2009, which aims to strength spill-response efforts and streamline development of new equipment and cleanup/containment methods. Also testifying will be officials from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Coast Guard, and the California Department of Fish and Game.

Honda, Lofgren and Lee tidbits, after the jump…
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