Momentum is building in Congress to push states to report their mental health records to the federal database used to conduct background checks on gun buyers, says the New York Times. State privacy laws have helped thwart repeated efforts to improve the reporting of such records in the past and are likely to complicate this latest effort, even after the Virginia Tech shooting last month. Federal law bars anyone who has been adjudicated as a “mental defective,” as well as anyone involuntarily committed to a mental institution, from buying a firearm. Only 22 states now submit any mental health records to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System.
“We've had these wake-up calls for years, and all we ever do is push the snooze button,” said Paul Helmke, president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. The federal system contained only about 235,000 mental health records as of January 2006, even though as many as 2.7 million people have been involuntarily institutionalized nationwide. A bill pending in Congress takes a carrot-and-stick approach that offers money to states to automate records and speed their transmission to the federal database. It also withholds part of federal financing for a crime-prevention program from states that do not comply. Wayne LaPierre, chief executive of the National Rifle Association, said it was mainly mental health groups that had stood in the way of similar legislation in the past. “We're strongly in support of putting those records in the system,” he said.