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Second ‘Guns in Our Society’ Program Focuses on Seriously Mentally Ill, Laura’s Law

Guns in Our Society, the second in a series of monthly interview programs hosted by the Coalition Against Gun Violence focuses on the seriously mentally ill in our community, specifically regarding Laura’s Law.

The show aired on SBTV, Channel 17, Feb. 27, Feb. 28 and March 1. It can be viewed online at

Each month CAGV will discuss a different aspect of gun violence prevention using an interview format with guests from the Santa Barbara community. 

The focus of this month’s program is Laura’s Law, an assisted outpatient treatment (AOT) program for severely mentally ill people.

Laura Wilcox, a 19-year-old college student who had been valedictorian of her high school class in Nevada County, Calif., was home for winter break from college. She filled in for the receptionist at the Nevada County’s Department of Behavioral Health for one week in January 2001. 

She was shot four times at close range, ending the life of a young lovely woman full of intelligence and promise. The shooter was a 41-year-old patient who shot and killed two more people. The patient had tried to call his psychiatrist six times over a two-week period with no response.  

Frequently after a publicized shooting the issue of mental illness comes up with politicians and media saying mental illness is the problem and we must do something. 

Persons with untreated mental illness are more likely to be victims of violence than perpetrators. Only 4.2 percent of Americans are considered seriously mentally ill. 

The purpose of Laura's Law is to see that persons with untreated mental illness receive treatment, because persons whose mental illness is treated are no more violent than those in the general population. It is untreated mental illness that is the problem. 

Under Laura's Law, the small population of seriously mental ill persons who typically are too ill or impaired to realize they need treatment are required to participate in treatment plans and mental health departments are required to treat them.  

What generally happens to these individuals in communities without AOT programs is that they get caught in the “revolving door,” which means they are picked up by law enforcement either taken to jail or put in psychiatric emergency for a day or so. In both instances they are back on the street until the next time law enforcement is involved.  

These mentally ill people who need treatment are receiving almost none in Santa Barbara County. Additionally, the “revolving door” offers no solution and depends on taxpayer funds to maintain personnel and services.

Although AOT programs are operating in 45 states, in California each county must vote to approve its adoption. So far 15 counties have adopted the law, among them are Los Angeles, San Francisco, Orange, San Diego and San Luis Obispo counties. Ventura County will commence a pilot program in July.

Dr. Alice Gleghorn, the new director of Alcohol Drug and Mental Health Services, is negative about this program and the Board of Supervisors had hoped to assign an already funded pilot program to a contractor, but that may not occur. 

Meanwhile the seriously mentally ill in our community continue to cycle through the “revolving door.”

Watch Channel 17 to learn from personal stories about Laura’s Law and how seriously people and their families in our community have suffered due to lack of treatment.  

Be part of the conversation. We would like to hear from you.

What are your thoughts and comments about Assisted Outpatient Treatment in Santa Barbara? How can our community best help the seriously mentally ill? Your suggestions for future topics about gun violence prevention are welcome.

CAGV’s next program on Guns in Our Society will be about Sexual Assault Awareness Month, with guests from the Santa Barbara Rape Crisis Center.

For more information or to comment, visit, send an email to [email protected] or leave a message at 805.564.6803.

Toni Wellen is the chair of the Coalition Against Gun Violence.

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