One month after a woman in a mental health crisis fatally shot two Gulf Coast police officers and lost her own life, at least one of the area’s lawmakers prefer improving mental health treatment and resources to prevent a similar incidents rather than restricting gun access to people with mentally illness, as bills before the Legislature propose.
On Dec. 14, Bay St. Louis Officer Branden Estorffe, 23, and Sgt. Steven Robin, 34, responded to a welfare check and encountered Amy Anderson, 43, of Ocean Springs, outside a Motel 6. She fatally shot Robin and Estorffe, who shot at her before falling to the ground. Estorffe later died at a nearby hospital.
“This highlighted the fact that we have a huge mental health problem here in our state,” said Rep. Jeffery Hulum III, D-Gulfport. “We need to fund more mental health care treatment and facilities. Also, for our law enforcement community, we make sure people are training to deal with these types of situations as they arise.”
House Bill 54, proposed by Rep. Orlando Paden D-Clarksdale, and House Bill 100 by Rep. Charles Young Jr., D-Meridian, would require a person to provide proof of a mental health evaluation by a licensed psychiatrist within a year of submitting a concealed carry license.
House Bill 80 by Rep. Oscar Denton, D-Vicksburg would require the Department of Public Safety to maintain an automated listing of information by court clerks about people who have been civilly committed for mental health health treatment or found mentally incompetent to determine whether they can carry a concealed firearms license.
The bill are before the House Judiciary B and Constitution committees. Tuesday is the deadline for House and Senate committees to report out bills originating in their chamber in order to be taken up by a floor vote.
Hulum said he does not support legislation that would require a mental health evaluation in a concealed carry application because Mississippi is an open carry state, and those efforts would infringe on the right to gun ownership. Instead, he sees addressing mental health care as a better solution.
“It goes back to who needs these evaluations, mental health care, and mental health treatment the most,” Humum said, especially for people who can’t afford or access treatment.
Anderson rented and checked into a room in Bay St. Louis with her child, and about an hour after arriving, she asked an employee to call 911, according to a DPS timeline. The agency’s Mississippi Bureau of Investigation is investigating the shooting.
Estorffe and Robin spent about 40 minutes talking with Anderson and her child outside the motel room. Anderson said she was in fear for her life and being followed by a white pickup, according to DPS. The officers decided to contact Child Protective Services out of concern for the child’s safety. Not long after, Anderson began the shootout that resulted in her and the officers’ deaths.
Anderson, a mother of three, worked as a veterinarian. Before the shooting, two of her children had been removed from her care and sent to live with their father, the Sun Herald reported.
The Sun Herald also reported that Anderson’s family saw her mental stability decline prior to the shooting and tried to get the Ocean Springs police to take action against her, including confiscating a gun from her possession.
“We can’t just arrest somebody because they have a gun in the house,” Chief Mark Dunson told the newspaper. “It’s not a crime to have a gun.”
Officers visited Anderson’s home three times and met with her once at the police department, but Dunson said those checks didn’t warrant an arrest or further police action. In one of those calls, Anderson’s mother said Anderson was home with her daughter with a loaded pistol.
Under current state law, DPS authorizes licenses to carry stun guns, concealed pistols or revolvers. The applicant must meet several requirements, including Mississippi residency, age and that they have not been voluntarily or involuntarily committed to mental health treatment.
A copy of the person’s applicationis forwarded to the the individual’s county and police chief. Local law enforcement can use discretion to submit a voluntary report to DPS containing “readily discoverable prior information that he feels may be pertinent to the licensing of any applicant.”
Federal law already prohibits people who have been committed to a mental institution or found mentally incompetent from possessing, receiving, transporting or shipping firearms or ammunition.
Another Coast lawmaker, Sen. Jeremy England, R-Vancleave, declined to comment because he had not reviewed the proposed legislation. He serves as vice chairman of the Senate’s Judiciary B Committee.
Other Republican lawmakers from the Gulf Coast did not respond to requests for comment.
Hulum said he supports Medicaid expansion to make mental health care available to more people and to help reduce potentially violent mental health episodes.
“The important thing to look at is how do we prevent this from going forward?” he said. “The way is fully funding mental health treatment, mental health programing, facility programs, and having follow-ups after treatment.”
Hulum pointed to Pine Health Mental Healthcare Resources as a resource across south Mississippi. Hulum said he would like to see more programs like the ones it provides, including intervention officers and follow-ups after people complete mental health treatment.
He would also like to see more trained mental health professionals who can accompany law enforcement on mental health calls to help de-escalate situations or provide acute diagnoses.
Hulum thought about the shooting of a mentally ill Hattiesburg resident, Corey Hughes, who was shot and killed by a sheriff’s deputy after his family called to have them take him to a hospital for mental treatment. In October, Attorney General Lynn Fitch found the shooting was justified.