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House bill would try to keep guns from mentally ill

By John Cheves – jcheves@herald-leader.com

FRANKFORT — A House bill filed this week would address a blind spot in federal background checks that allows mentally ill Kentuckians to buy guns.

Rep. Bob Damron, D-Nicholasville, wants state courts to notify the Kentucky State Police when they commit people to a mental institution or otherwise find them mentally incompetent. Under Damron’s House Bill 308, state police would inform the FBI, which would add the names to its National Instant Criminal Background Check system, used by federally licensed gun dealers to screen their customers.

The Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act of 1993 requires background checks for gun purchases and forbids sales to — among others — felons, fugitives and anyone “adjudicated as a mental defective or who has been committed to a mental institution.”

But Kentucky, like most states, does not require courts to share mental health records with the FBI. As of August 2010, 28 states, including Kentucky, each had submitted mental health records on fewer than 100 people since the Brady Act took effect in 1998, according to the FBI. Kentucky had submitted four records.

“This is one big problem with the national background check,” said Damron, the House Democratic caucus chairman. “We want only the right folks to be able to buy a firearm. That does not include the mentally ill. I think most gun owners would stand behind that.”

Damron said his bill only covers people whose mental illness is documented by a court. Privacy laws shield people who voluntarily commit themselves to an institution or seek other forms of mental-health treatment, and their records probably are unobtainable and could not be shared, he said.

At present, Kentucky State Police are given access to state court records about mental-health adjudications when they review permit applications to carry a concealed firearm, Lt. David Jude said. Anyone classified as mentally ill by a court cannot obtain a concealed carry permit. But state police don’t have possession of those court records and they do not forward them to the FBI, Jude said.

The mental-health blind spot in the Brady Act became national news in 2007 when Seung-Hui Cho shot up the Virginia Tech campus in Blacksburg, Va., killing 32 people and then himself. More than a year earlier, a judge had found Cho to be dangerously mentally ill after a stalking incident. But Virginia did not submit those court records to the FBI database, so Cho later cleared the background checks necessary to buy his guns.

The subject arose again last month in Tucson, Ariz., where Jared Loughner fatally shot six people at a shopping center and wounded many others, including a congresswoman. Loughner previously had been fired from a job and ejected from his community college for erratic and disturbing behavior. But local officials said Loughner never was institutionalized, so it’s unclear what public record, if any, documented his problems.

“Unfortunately, in mass shooting after mass shooting, we see people who had a million red flags in their background who nonetheless were able to buy their guns legally because nobody was keeping track of it all. Sometimes even a simple Google search can do a better job turning up problems than the background checks,” said Ladd Everitt, spokesman for the Washington-based Coalition To Stop Gun Violence.

The Virginia Tech shootings led Congress to pass a 2007 law offering millions of dollars in grants to states willing to improve their record-sharing with the FBI database.

Since 1998, gun dealers have initiated more than 125 million background checks through the FBI database, according to the FBI. Of that total, the database issued 826,849 denials because the potential purchaser was known to violate at least one of the Brady Act restrictions.

Most of the denials were for felony convictions (62 percent), misdemeanor domestic violence convictions (11 percent) or criminal fugitive status (8 percent). Only 0.75 percent of the denials resulted from a history of mental health problems. But federal officials also estimate that up to 90 percent of the mentally ill who should be disqualified from gun possession are not in the FBI database, while criminal records are much more freely shared by the states.

Ultimately, background checks are only as accurate as the information provided by the states, Everitt said.

“There’s not many carrots or sticks to make the states do this right now, other than appealing to their conscience,” he said.

Damron’s bill has been assigned to the House Judiciary Committee.

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Comments

  1. RobK says:

    Under Damron’s House Bill 308, state police would inform the FBI, which would add the names to its National Instant Criminal Background Check system, used by federally licensed gun dealers to screen their customers.

    This is NOT ACCEPTABLE! The mentally ill are NOT Criminals, and the state is only adding to the negative stigma that they must deal with on a daily basis as it is now. There has to be a better way. There needs to be a list that very few people can get into as far as the mentally ill. If the information gets out, it could ruin the life of those on it. I have mental illness, and see that this can be a problem. Thanks to the media and entertainment industry, people are scared of the mentally ill. I have seen, and experienced discrimination threw the years. You really need to be careful with this. And putting them on a list with criminals just feeds into that stigma.

    The idea has some merit. But it runs into another problem. Its easy to get someone committed for a 72 hold to investigate them for a problem. What if they are found of sound mind, and released? Will the state Police still give their names to the FBI? And how will the State Police follow up on the case? And if there is an error made, what will it take to get off the list?

    The mentally ill sometimes are made to fee like the Frankenstein monster with the towns people chasing after them with torches, and hounds.

    Look, I use to some years ago, really enjoy shooting for recreation, back when I could afford it that is. I can tell you that there were some so called “normal people” that scared me to death that they were allowed to OWN a firearm, much less shoot one.

    In general I feel that we need to take a lond, hard look at allowing people to own firearms in general. Back when the founding fathers penned the constitution, fire arms were long rifles for the most part, and there was no way to hide them on your person. Even the “pistols” were big and bulky. And the most important thing, they were single shot. But today we have multiple shot firearms. More chance to do more damage in that moment. We should have thought about that a long time ago. But now, its way to late to try and control the firearms in the USA. They are all over the place, and pretty easy to get. The real tool that we can use is controlling ammunition. After all without ammo, a firearm, no matter how large the magazine is, is USELESS! Why is it that we have no restriction on ammo? That is what should be restricted. A person should have to have a permit to buy, own, and carry ammunition. Period. We need to limit the ownership amd supplied of reloading equipment as well. This is a tool in teh fight that will help to limit the exposure to people getting ammunition that they need to power the firearm, no matter what kind it is.

    I do not see how anyone can dispute this requirement. After all, the Constitution might say that a person has the right to bare arms, but it says nothing about ammunition, does it?

    There was also an article a few months ago that said that there was some talk about putting some serial numbers on the bullets themselves. That would be a plus when tied to e license.

    If the true idea is to control the damage done by firearms to other human beings, then we need to look at all options that seem reasonable.

    Thanks you.

    Rob

  2. Ron says:

    I can add nothing to Rob’s comment. He hit the nail on the head.

    The author makes his position clear, and does so by twisting statements in an attempt to sell his goods.

  3. daniel says:

    Who makes the final approval. This is what is wrong with this bill. Too much power in the hands of a nut can be bad for any government. Damron should know better than to force something like this on KY. Let this bill die..or just shoot it..

  4. TLWiz says:

    If a mentally ill person is attempting to buy a gun – then that person actually is a criminal. This is not a published list available for public perusal, it is a database that is checked for a person’s name only when that person attempts to buy a firearm. Ignoring the mentally ill has not worked out so well.

  5. TLWiz says:

    It was actually the Gun Control Act of 1968 that prohibits selling or otherwise providing a firearm to anyone “has been adjudicated as a mental defective or has been committed to any mental institution” as well as felons and fugitives, illegal aliens, and drug addicts.

  6. […] of August 2010, Kentucky submitted mental health records on only four people since the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act prohibiting gun purchases without background checks […]

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