Men­tal health record checks lit­tle-used

Only 15 states sub­mit re­ports to na­tional sys­tem

The Washington Times Daily - - Politics - BY DAVID SHERFINSKI

Fif­teen states have sub­mit­ted fewer than 100 to­tal men­tal health records to the fed­eral gov­ern­ment’s in­stant check sys­tem, mark­ing what gun con­trol ad­vo­cates said is a ma­jor flaw in the sys­tem.

Since the Na­tional In­stant Crim­i­nal Back­ground Check Sys­tem (NICS) be­came op­er­a­tional in 1998, the 15 low­est­per­form­ing states have re­ported fewer than 100 records be­tween them, ac­cord­ing to a new re­port from ad­vo­cacy group May­ors Against Il­le­gal Guns.

The spot­light has re­turned to men­tal health and gun crimes in the wake of a re­view this week that found the Sandy Hook shooter had men­tal prob­lems, and af­ter a man with men­tal health is­sues as­saulted his politi­cian fa­ther in a high-pro­file case in Vir­ginia ear­lier this month.

“Ev­ery­one un­der­stands that men­tal health plays a role in some shoot­ings,” said David Chip­man, a for­mer agent with the Bureau of Al­co­hol, To­bacco, Firearms and Ex­plo­sives and for­mer ad­viser to the may­ors’ group. “It seems like there has been some progress made, but there’s still a lot of work that needs to be done.”

Those 15 states are Alaska, Hawaii, Louisiana, Mary­land, Mas­sachusetts, Mis­sis­sippi, Mon­tana, Nebraska, New Hamp­shire, North Dakota, Ok­la­homa, Rhode Is­land, South Dakota, Vermont, and Wyoming.

The re­port found that of those 15 bot­tom-per­form­ing states, only Nebraska and North Dakota had laws that re­quire or per­mit the records to be turned over.

Amid the dis­putes on guns, ad­vo­cates on both sides of the is­sue gen­er­ally agree that bet­ter med­i­cal doc­u­men­ta­tion could flag peo­ple at risk of do­ing harm to them­selves or oth­ers.

Those ef­forts got a boost this week af­ter au­thor­i­ties in Con­necti­cut re­leased a re­port say­ing the shooter in New­town last year, Adam Lanza, was ob­sessed with vi­o­lence and mass shoot­ings, and had easy ac­cess to guns that were legally pur­chased by his mother.

But the sys­tem can only take you so far, said John Hu­dak, a fel­low in gov­er­nance stud­ies at the Brook­ings In­sti­tu­tion.

“If Con­necti­cut’s re­port­ing of their men­tal health records was per­fect, it wouldn’t have stopped what hap­pened in New­town,” Mr. Hu­dak said.

How­ever, Mr. Hu­dak cau­tioned that gun vi­o­lence re­mains a so­cial prob­lem that can­not be solved only in peo­ple’s homes or by bet­ter par­ent­ing.

Fed­er­ally li­censed gun deal­ers are re­quired to per­form NICS checks when they sell a gun. A bill to ex­pand the re­quired checks to pri­vate sales online and at gun shows failed ear­lier this year in the U.S. Se­nate, though a num­ber of states have passed new gun con­trol and back­ground check laws in the wake of last year’s Con­necti­cut school shoot­ings.

Un­der the cur­rent NICS sys­tem, states vol­un­tar­ily pro­vide records to the fed­eral gov­ern­ment. The re­port, how­ever, found that most of the 15 top-per­form­ing states re­ceived fed­eral grant money from 2009 to 2012 to im­prove col­lec­tion and sub­mis­sion of the rel­e­vant records.

Penn­syl­va­nia, New Jersey, Utah, Florida and Maine had the largest in­creases in re­ported records from Oc­to­ber 2012 to May 2013. Florida also had the largest per­cent in­crease in men­tal health sub­mis­sions over their pre­vi­ous to­tal, jump­ing 82 per­cent from 49,903 to 90,824.

Vir­ginia has been one of the most dili­gent in turn­ing over records to the fed­eral gov­ern­ment, es­pe­cially in the wake of re­forms in­sti­tuted af­ter the Vir­ginia Tech mass shoot­ing in 2007.

Nev­er­the­less, is­sues in­side the state per­sist, and the spe­cific is­sue of men­tal health treat­ment has got­ten par­tic­u­larly close at­ten­tion in re­cent weeks af­ter Austin “Gus” Deeds, 24, stabbed state Sen. R. Creigh Deeds be­fore tak­ing his own life.

Mr. Deeds, a for­mer Demo­cratic gu­ber­na­to­rial nom­i­nee, sharply crit­i­cized the state’s men­tal health sys­tem this week; Gus Deeds was given a psy­chi­atric eval­u­a­tion the day be­fore the tragedy oc­curred, but was turned away af­ter the Rock­bridge Com­mu­nity Ser­vices Board could not find him a bed.

Sev­eral nearby fa­cil­i­ties re­ported later that they had avail­able space but were not con­tacted.

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