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States flouting mental health gun law

More than half fail to file background checks, review says

By Greg Bluestein
Associated Press / February 18, 2011

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ATLANTA — More than half the states are not complying with a law enacted after the Virginia Tech shootings that requires them to share the names of mentally ill people with the national background-check system to prevent them from buying guns, an Associated Press review has found.

The deadline for complying with the three-year-old law was last month. But nine states, including Massachusetts, have not supplied any names to the database. Seventeen others have sent in fewer than 25, meaning gun dealers around the United States could be running names of would-be buyers against a woefully incomplete list.

Officials blame privacy laws, antiquated record-keeping, and a severe lack of funding for the gap, according to public records requests.

Eleven states have provided more than 1,000 records apiece to the federal database, yet gun-control groups have estimated more than 1 million files are missing nationwide.

“If the mental health records are not current from our sister states, the quality of our background check is going to be compromised,’’ said Sean Byrne, acting commissioner of the Division of Criminal Justice Services in New York, a state that has submitted more than 100,000 records.

Congress has doled out only a fraction of the $1.3 billion it promised between 2009 to 2013 to help states and courts cover the costs of the 2008 law.

For some states, the amount of federal grant money they could be penalized for not complying is less than what it would cost them to get their records-sharing systems up to speed.

The Jan. 8 shooting rampage in Tucson that killed six people and left Representative Gabrielle Giffords grievously wounded has put more emphasis on the struggle to disarm the mentally ill, even though the man arrested in the attack would not have been on the no-purchase list. Jared Loughner was considered so mentally unstable that he was kicked out of community college, yet because he was never deemed mentally ill by a judge or committed to an institution, he was able to legally buy the gun police say he used.

Since 1968, federal law has banned certain mentally ill people from buying guns, including those who have been deemed a danger to themselves or others, involuntarily committed, or judged not guilty by reason of insanity or incompetent to stand trial.

The nationwide background-check system — which is also used to prevent convicted felons from buying guns — was established under the 1993 Brady Bill.

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