Saturday, January 19, 2013

Why are states not required to submit the names of all people who need antipsychotic medication to the NICS?

A story today by John Bentley, Paul Bogosian and Phil Hirschkorn on the CBS News website outlines some of the faults in the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, known as NICS, when it comes to reporting the names of mentally ill people. The story does not get into the fact that 40 percent of all gun sales are private transactions, and none of those require any background check at all.

Since 1998, when the FBI launched the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, known as NICS, the database has grown to include the names of more than 8.3 million people prohibited from purchasing guns. The database includes illegal immigrants, felons, fugitives, spouse abusers, drug addicts, and the mentally ill. Under federal law, anyone who has been committed to a mental institution or deemed mentally unstable by a judge is prohibited for life from purchasing a gun.

The focus of the CBS story is Pennsylvania, which until it elected a new AG, refused to hand over the names of its residents who have been deemed a danger due to mental illness.

For the past 15 years, Pennsylvania did collect the names of its seriously mentally ill residents, but until this month, it never sent that information to NICS. Through 2011, Pennsylvania was the most populous of 23 states that had submitted fewer than 100 disqualifying mental health records to NICS, and it was among the 17 states to submit fewer than 10 such records, according to the report, "Fatal Gaps," by Mayors Against Illegal Guns. (MAIG).

It makes no sense to me that states should be given an option to participate. They should be required to submit these names and more. Lawmakers in noncompliant states seem to think they have to wait for a tragedy before acting.

When MAIG updated its data this month, it found that two states previously inactive, Delaware and Idaho, had begun submitting mental health records. By submitting 18,699 records last year, MAIG reported, Delaware has become the second most compliant state on a per capita basis behind Virginia, which sprang into action only after the 2007 Virginia Tech University massacre.

Virginia waited and waited and only acted after 32 innocent students were murdered. The authorities in Virginia knew that Mr. Cho was very ill and potentially dangerous.

In December 2005, just 16 months before his killing spree at Virginia Tech, gunman Seung-Hui Cho underwent a psychiatric evaluation. A judge deemed Cho a danger to himself and ordered him to get treatment, which never did. Virginia had not sent Cho's name to NICS, so when he went to purchase a Glock 9mm and a Walther P22, both semi-automatic pistols, he twice passed a background check. On April 16, 2007, Cho shot 49 people - killing 32 and wounding 17 -- before shooting himself.

Pennsylvania needed a new, better Attorney General to act.

In the past two weeks, CBS News has learned, the Pennsylvania State Police sent 642,000 names collected between 1998 and 2012 of residents once diagnosed with mental illness or committed to a mental hospital to NICS. In correspondence reviewed by CBS News, Pennsylvania State Police informed the FBI last December 19, just five days after the mass shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, that it would begin transmitting mental health records.

At least the NRA's bought and paid for senators are not fighting for the rights of the insane to own automatic weapons.

This week, U.S. Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma said President Obama is "right to take steps to strengthen mental health databases and reporting to the NICS system, so we can ensure that guns do not end up in the hands of criminals or those who are a threat to themselves or others." The pro-gun rights National Rifle Association told CBS News that it was deeply involved in the development of NICS and has strongly supported state implementing legislation.

The greater obstacle seems to be the ACLU and its affiliated lefties, who seem to think that mentally disturbed people with guns are not dangerous.

To date, neither the Massachusetts State Mental Health Department nor private hospitals in the state have been willing to share names of the mentally ill. "This is a place where public safety trumps any possible privacy right," state senator David Linsky said. "If you don't want to have somebody to get access to the fact that you were committed to a mental hospital, then don't buy a gun, don't apply for a gun license."

What I cannot understand is how incredibly lax the federal standard for mental illness is.

"We all have different definitions of mental illness. We all have different definitions of in-patient treatment or institutionalization, and we need to get those all on the same track," Pennsylvania's new attorney general, Kathleen Kane said.

No one who is being treated for schizophrenia should have a gun or ammo. No one who is being prescribed antipsychotic medications should be allowed to purchase a gun and/or ammo. And certainly everyone who has been hospitalized for a serious mental illness should be prohibited from buying a gun and/or ammo.

Federal law should require all psychologists and psychiatrists who are treating people with psychoses to report their patients' names to a county public health official. Every county should then report those names to their states and then to the federal government.

As a check on possible abuse, any time a person's name is put on the NICS list, the person should be informed, and he should have the right to appeal his listing to a judge.

The other obvious needed change in federal law is to require all private gun sales (including those at gun shows) to have an NICS background check before any sale is made. And in a case where someone sells his gun without getting a background check done first, or loses his gun and fails to report the loss to the police, the seller or loser should be held liable for any damage done with his gun, including prison time if someone is shot.

None of these improvements would have stopped the schizophrenic Adam Lanza, because the arsenal he used to murder all those first graders in Newtown, Conn. were bought and owned by his mother, who was the first of his victims. To prevent that from happening--or at least to make it less likely--I would make it illegal to do what she did, which was to allow her mentally ill son from firing her guns at a shooting range or anywhere else. I would further like a law which required those with firearms in their homes, where a mentally ill person also lives, to keep their guns and ammo locked up and beyond the reach of the mental patient at all times.

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