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Colorado proposes a new measure to take a stand against school shootings

A couple embrace before a memorial service for the victims and families of Friday's rampage at Harder Stadium on the campus of University of California, Santa Barbara on Tuesday, May 27, 2014 in the Isla Vista area near Goleta, Calif. Sheriff's officials
A couple embrace before a memorial service for the victims and families of Friday's rampage at Harder Stadium on the campus of University of California, Santa Barbara on Tuesday, May 27, 2014 in the Isla Vista area near Goleta, Calif. Sheriff's officials said Elliot Rodger, 22, went on a rampage near the University of California, Santa Barbara, stabbing three people to death at his apartment before shooting and killing three more in a crime spree through a nearby neighborhood. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)
Chris Carlson, AP

The Colorado Legislature is poised to pass a new law that would free up therapists to report possible school shooting threats without fear of lawsuits from angry family members should the concern prove unfounded.

“My hope is that with this bill, we can stop any possible attack in a school that someone may know about ahead of time,” state representative Mike Foote, one of the legislation’s sponsors, told the Wall Street Journal (paywall). “It may not be an imminent threat, but it could certainly be a serious threat.”

The proposed legislation would allow a therapist to report a patient if he or she “exhibits behavior that, in the mental health professional’s reasonable judgment, creates a dangerous environment in a school that may jeopardize the safety or well-being of students, faculty, staff, parents, or the general public.” It would apply to public and private schools, and would would also extend to higher education.

This proposal differs from most laws around the country, which require a therapist to report an imminent threat but stop short of allowing or requiring them to report less actionable ramblings.

Not everyone is sanguine about the proposal, as some therapists fear the collapse of confidentiality might do more harm than good.

“The main concern is that confidentiality is the backbone of successful therapy and treatment. You have to be able to trust the person you’re talking to,” Moe Keller, vice president of public policy for Mental Health America, told the Wall Street Journal.

The push to find young human time bombs before they explode is driven partly by the 2014 killings near U.C. Santa Barbara, when a disturbed 22-year-old man somehow evaded repeated efforts by his parents to intervene, as the Los Angeles Times reported. In one instance, the man's therapist did alert authorities and police were called to his apartment, but he talked them out of a search that would have uncovered weapons and plans.

Whether the Colorado proposal would have altered the Isla Vista outcome is unclear, but it is part of a broad push to get more actionable information faster in the hands of those who can stop a killing.

The post-tragedy analysis in some ways parallels the 9/11 Commission Report, which found that in the World Trade Center disaster, different agencies — and even different branches of the same agency, in the case of the FBI — had put vital information in silos that prevented connections from being seen until too late.

Email: eschulzke@deseretnews.com