Oregon Sends Fewer Than 10 Mental Health Records to Database Used For Gun-Buyer Checks

Maxine Bernstein, The Oregonian, Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Mayors Against Illegal GunsPeople with serious mental illnesses and drug abusers continue to be able to buy guns with ease because most U.S. states continue to ignore federal law by failing to forward mental health records to a national database that is used to run background checks for gun purchasers, according to a study by the bipartisan Mayors Against Illegal Guns coalition.

As of October, Oregon had submitted just three mental health records to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, known as NICS, the study found. It’s one of 17 states reporting fewer than 10 records.

This is despite a 2009 Oregon law that requires the state Department of Human Services, the Psychiatric Security Review Board and the Judicial Department to provide State Police with records identifying people who have been involuntarily committed to a state hospital, found by a court unable to assist in their own defense, found guilty except for insanity of a crime or have been placed under court-ordered psychiatric review.

Oregon has its state police run background checks each time a person attempts to buy a gun in the state.

“According to a state official, the state has historically made little effort to also submit those records to the NICS file for mental health,” the study said.

The study says Oregon instead created a “Prohibited Persons” file and gave NICS access to the names in that file.

In February, state officials told the Oregonian that they were working together to assemble the data required for the national background-check system, though funding and logistical issues had caused some delay.

As of October of this year, Oregon also has not submitted a single record on drug abusers to the NICS substance abuse file, the study found.

The study, called “Fatal Gaps: How Missing Records in the Federal Background Check System Put Guns in the Hands of Killers,” analyzed FBI data following the deadly shooting in Tucson, Ariz. 10 months ago. The report was put out as victims of gun violence testified today before the U.S. Senate subcommittee on crime and terrorism, urging lawmakers to close these gaps in the nation’s database.

Tucson’s Jared Loughner, accused of killing six people and nearly taking the life of Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords on Jan. 8, was able to pass several background checks to buy his guns. He sailed through the system despite a prior drug-related arrest, an admission of drug use while in the U.S. Army and a suspension from a community college for bizarre behavior.

Everyone who ‘Has been adjudicated as a mental defective or committed to a mental institution’ (see ‘NICS Overview‘) is in a federal database. Also, the study referenced above has on page 6 “In 1968, after the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy, Congress enacted the first federal laws to prohibit access to firearms by certain categories of dangerous people, including convicted felons, the seriously mentally ill and drug abusers” – we all want to prevent gun violence, but the perpetuation of the myth that all people with a diagnosis of mental illness are dangerous is troubling. – David Green

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