Why Mental Health Bill Isn’t Moving

By Bridget Bowman


“We have to do it now,” Rep. Tim Murphy said on the House floor, urging Congress to act on his mental health system overhaul legislation in the wake of another mass shooting.

That was two years ago. In December 2013, the Pennsylvania Republican introduced his comprehensive mental health bill — which has recently been lauded by top House Republicans, including Speaker Paul D. Ryan, as a potential response to mass shootings. It was near the first anniversary of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Conn., where 20-year-old Adam Lanza killed 20 children and six adults.

For Murphy, a clinical psychologist, it’s unclear why his bill, which he reminds his colleagues of after the nation’s frequent mass shootings, hasn’t moved forward in Congress. “I’ve got a Ph.D. and I’ve practiced in this field for 40 years and I still can’t tell you why some people act the way they do,” Murphy said. “This is — to me it’s beyond comprehension.”

Despite repeated and bipartisan calls for an overhaul, the legislation has faced roadblocks: navigating the complex mental health system, educating lawmakers about needed improvements and lacking specific, vocal support from leadership.

In March 2013, then-Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, said mass shootings typically involved someone with “severe mental health issues,” and he said committees would look into that area.

But, according to Murphy and other advocates, Ryan is the first leader in recent memory to publicly push for specific legislation.

The Wisconsin Republican and House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., have both pointed to Murphy’s bill amid growing pressure for Congress to take action on gun violence after recent shootings in Colorado Springs, Colo., and San Bernardino, Calif.

The position is not new for Ryan, whose own district was the site of a mass shooting in August 2012, when a gunmen opened fire at a Sikh temple, killing six. In 2013, Ryan referenced the need to look into the mental health system in the wake of shootings, arguing that an assault weapons ban did not prevent the 1999 shootings at Columbine High School.