It took 18 months, but State Rep. Todd Stephens said the Pennsylvania State Police have begun sending the mental health records of people prohibited from buying firearms to a federal database.
Stephens (R-151), has been working for a year and a half to prevent what he calls a “loophole” pertaining to the inclusion of mental health records in the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS). Without that inclusion, Stephens said anyone from Pennsylvania who has been involuntarily committed, or found to be mentally deficient - and thus ineligible to buy firearms - could travel to another state and buy a gun.
that would require that the state's records be included in the national system. Since then, the Pennsylvania State Police followed through on a vow to begin forwarding all mental health records to NICS no later than Jan. 15 for inclusion in the national database. Stephens said the state police sent more than 600,000 mental health records to the FBI-run NICS.
“I applaud the state police for voluntarily providing this information to the national database,” Stephens said in a press release. “It will go a long way toward keeping guns out of the hands of those who may not possess a firearm due to mental health issues.”
Despite the state police's submission of records, Stephens told Patch that he still plans to introduce the legislation. His bill, which he said garnered widespread support in the form of co-sponsors, could be introduced within a week.
The potential law is moving forward at the state police's request, Stephens said, adding that "some additional language" is necessary to help police comply with federal requirements.
Ultimately, a law mandating the record share is the only way "we can be assured" that mental health records would continue to be sent to the national database, he said.
On the federal level, Bucks County Congressman Mike Fitzpatrick (R-8th district) this week introduced legislation to strengthen the national background check system to ensure that firearms are kept out of the hands of people not permitted to possess them.
Currently, the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) checks available records on persons who may be disqualified from purchasing firearms. However, it is optional for states to make their records available to the database.
Fitzpatrick's legislation, H.R. 329 the Strengthening Background Checks Act, aims to incentivize states to make their laws compliant with the intent of the NICS or face mandatory reduction in grants available for law enforcement.
"States must do their part in helping to prevent those already banned from owning firearms under current laws from doing so," Fitzpatrick said in a press release.
According to the Mayors Against Illegal Guns, the NICS database of mentally ill citizens is comprised of at least 584,985 individuals. Of those, 98 percent come from seven states - California, Colorado, Florida, Michigan, Missouri, Ohio, Virginia - plus federal agencies.
Following the shooting at Virginia Tech the federal government enacted incentives for states to submit their mental health records to the national database which resulted in a dramatic increase in the number of records available.
According to a July 2012 U.S. Government Accountability Office Report, from 2004 through 2011 the number of mental health records available in the national database increased from roughly 126,000 to 1.2 million, reflecting inclusion of records from a dozen states. The number of people denied a request to buy a firearm based upon a mental health prohibition increased almost 600 percent from 365 to 2,124 during that period according to the same report.