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Arizona Aftermath: More Than Thirty States Have Failed to Enact Laws Requiring Mental Health Records to Be Submitted to the National Gun Background Check Database

January 28, 2011

Only 17 states have submitted more than 1,000 mental health records to database, and more than 1.5 million records are estimated to be missing

New state laws enacted to improve submission of records to National Instant Background Check System (NICS) in the wake of the Virginia Tech massacre appear to be working

WASHINGTON, Jan. 28, 2011 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ — The following is being issued by Mayors Against Illegal Guns:

In December 2005, Seung-Hui Cho was found to present “an imminent danger to himself as a result of mental illness” by a special judge. This should have barred him from owning a gun under federal law, 18 U.S.C. section 922(g)(4), but, because his mental health records were never sent to the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System (“NICS”), in March 2007 Cho was able to purchase the guns he used the following month to shoot and kill 32 people at Virginia Tech. Similarly, the Tucson shooter, Jared Loughner, should have been barred from purchasing his shotgun less than a year after he was rejected from enlisting in the army due to drug abuse, but his record was not forwarded to NICS.

The tragedy at Virginia Tech brought attention to the failure of our national gun background check database to identify people with mental health issues that should prohibit them from purchasing guns. At the time of the shooting, there were only around 300,000 records in the NICS Index “Mental Defective” file, even though the United States General Accounting Office estimates that the file should contain around 2.7 million records.

There are several reasons that states were not sending mental health records to NICS. Some states had not provided their agencies with the authority to share mental health records with the federal government. In other states, state privacy laws barred the sharing of such records. In still others, the right laws were in place but state agencies lacked the resources or initiative to share the records.

In the wake of the Virginia Tech shootings, ten states changed their laws to require that mental health records be sent to NICS: Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Minnesota, Nevada, New York, Tennessee, Texas, Washington, and Wisconsin.(1) Two others – Maine and Virginia – passed Executive Orders to require the sharing of these records.(2)

For the most part, these laws have been successful in helping states overcome the legal barriers to sharing mental health records. Several of these states – most notably New York, Texas, Virginia, and Washington – made dramatic improvements in the number of records shared. For example, New York increased its records shared from 1 to 154,962, and Texas from 0 to 60,680.


           States That Changed Laws Since Virginia Tech To Require Sending
                             of Mental Health Data to NICS
                               Mental health records     Mental health records
         State (date law         submitted through       submitted through Aug.
           took effect)           the end of 2006                 2010
    Idaho (7/1/10)                                 0                           0
    Illinois (1/1/08)                              0                       58(3)
    Indiana (7/1/09)                               0                       1,736
    Maine (7/31/09)                                0                          24
    Minnesota
     (7/1/10)                                      0                           0
    Nevada (1/1/10)                                0                         163
    New York
     (11/1/08)                                     1                     154,962
    Tennessee
     (1/1/10)                                      2                         760
    Texas (9/1/09)                                 0                      60,680
    Virginia
     (4/30/07)                                78,478                     139,185
    Washington
     (7/26/09)                                    15                      32,947
    Wisconsin
     (7/1/10)                                      0                         518

There are a variety of reasons why other states may not have seen dramatic improvements. In Idaho, Minnesota, and Nevada, it’s too early to tell whether these laws will improve record submission, since the laws went into effect only a few months before the most recent available data about NICS submission (August 2010). In Illinois, the implementing statute required the state to reach an agreement with the FBI on how to share the data, but did not itself outline a procedure for data to be shared. Illinois is also in the process of upgrading its computer system for submitting records. And in Maine, the change was implemented by an Executive Order establishing a task force to explore ways to more consistently send records, so final procedures may not have been established.

New Jersey also amended its laws to allow for disclosure of mental health records, but instead of requiring any specific agency to submit records to NICS, New Jersey’s law merely allowed them to do so if “disclosure is needed to comply with the data reporting provisions of the NICS Improvement Amendments Act of 2007, and the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act of 1993.”(4) The law did not establish any procedures for the sharing of records and, as of August 2010, New Jersey had only submitted 8 records.

Some states had no substantial legal barriers to the submission of mental health records to NICS, but appeared to lack the administrative resources or initiative to submit records. Several of these states, including California, Florida, Ohio, Michigan, Missouri, and North Carolina, have been able to make significant gains since Virginia Tech without legal action and have each submitted more than 10,000 records. California alone has increased the number of mental health records submitted from 21 to 256,106 without any legislative enactment.

As of December 31, 2010, there were 1,107,758 mental health records in the NICS Index Mental Defective file, which means that there are around 1.6 million records still missing. Ten states still have submitted zero records to the Mental Defective file: Alaska, Delaware, Hawaii, Idaho, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Mexico, North Dakota, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island.

Eighteen more states and the District of Columbia still have fewer than 100 people listed as mentally ill in the Mental Defective file: Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Carolina, South Dakota, Utah, Vermont, and Wyoming.


            Number of Mental Health Records Submitted to NICS by State
                         Mental Health     Mental Health
                            Records           Records         2010 Mental
                           Submitted         Submitted      Health Records
                          through Dec.      through Aug.      per 100,000
          State             31, 2006          31, 2010        inhabitants
    Alaska                            0                 0                 0
    Delaware                          0                 0                 0
    Hawaii                            0                 0                 0
    Idaho                             0                 0                 0
    Mass.                             0                 0                 0
    Minnesota                         0                 0                 0
    New Mexico                        0                 0                 0
    North Dakota                      0                 0                 0
    Pennsylvania                      0                 0                 0
    Rhode Island                      0                 0                 0
    Oregon                            0                 1                 0
    Louisiana                         0                 1                 0
    South Dakota                      0                 1               0.1
    Nebraska                          0                 1               0.1
    Mississippi                       0                 2               0.1
    Oklahoma                          0                 2               0.1
    Kentucky                          1                 4               0.1
    New Jersey                        0                 8               0.1
    Illinois                          0                14               0.1
    New Hampshire                     1                 2               0.2
    Montana                           0                 3               0.3
    South Carolina                    0                13               0.3
    Wyoming                           3                 3               0.5
    Maryland                          2                45               0.8
    Maine                             0                24               1.8
    Utah                              5                72               2.6
    Iowa                             46                94               3.1
    Vermont                           0                25                 4
    Alabama                          24               230               4.8
    Nevada                            0               163                 6
    Wisconsin                         0               518               9.1
    Tennessee                         2               760                12
    District of
     Columbia                         0                80              13.3
    Indiana                           0             1,736              26.8
    Georgia                           0             2,991              30.9
    West Virginia                     0               609              32.9
    Arkansas                         46             1,422              48.8
    Arizona                           0             5,036              78.8
    Kansas                          972             3,185             111.6
    North Carolina                  304            12,932             135.6
    Connecticut                       0             5,327               149
    Florida                           0            32,411             172.4
    Missouri                        388            11,404             190.4
    Ohio                              1            22,440             194.5
    Texas                             0            60,680             241.3
    Colorado                      7,804            21,696             431.4
    Washington                       15            32,947               490
    California                       21           256,106             687.5
    New York                          1           154,962             799.7
    Michigan                     71,304            97,827             989.8
    Virginia                     78,478           139,185          1,739.60

    Totals                      159,418           864,962        Avg. 280.2

About Mayors Against Illegal Guns

Since its inception in April 2006, Mayors Against Illegal Guns has grown from 15 mayors to over 550. Mayors Against Illegal Guns has united the nation’s mayors around these common goals: protecting their communities by holding gun offenders and irresponsible gun dealers accountable, demanding access to trace data that is critical to law enforcement efforts to combat illegal gun trafficking, and working with legislators to fix gaps, weaknesses and loopholes in the law that make it far too easy for criminals and other prohibited purchasers to get guns.

(1) See Idaho Code Ann. sections 66-356, 67-3003; 2007 Ill. Laws 564, S.B. 940, Public Act 95-564; In. Code sections 11-10-4-3, 12-26-6-8, 35-36-2-4, 35-36-2-5, 35-36-3-1; Minn. Stat. 253B.24; Nev. AB 46 (2008); NY S8706, 2008 N.Y. LAWS 491 (2008); Tenn. HB 2249 (2009); Tex. Gov. Code sections 411.052, 411.0521; Wash. Rev. Code Ann. sections 10.77.030, 10.77.050, 71.05.240, 71.05.320; Wis. Stat. sections 51.20(13)(cv)(4), 175.35(2g)(d)(1). An additional seven states – Alabama, Colorado, Connecticut, Georgia, Kansas, Iowa, & Missouri- had enacted laws requiring mental health records to be submitted to NICS prior to the Virginia Tech shootings in 2007.

(2) See Me. Ex. Or. No. 02 FY 08/09 (2007); Va. Ex. Or. 50 (2007).

(3) This figure was provided by Elliot Fineman of the National Gun Victims Action Council and represents the number of mental health records submitted to NICS by Illinois as of the end of 2010. The number of records submitted as of August 2010 is 14 and the estimated total number of outstanding records is 120,000. He believes that so few records have been entered because the state is currently upgrading its antiquated FOID computer system. Some potential issues are that the FOID permit system only holds records of individuals who have applied for a FOID card and does not distinguish between voluntary and involuntary admissions or maintain these records for more than five years, even though involuntary admission is disqualifying for life unless appealed. In addition, records from community and private facilities, licensed practitioners, and civil cases are not adequately reported.

(4) N.J. Stat. section 30:4-24.3 (2010) (internal citations omitted).

CONTACT: Mayor Bloomberg’s Press Office, +1-212-788-2958

SOURCE Mayors Against Illegal Guns


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