What ever happened to promise to strengthen gun background-check system?

Many mentally ill missing from National Instant Criminal Background Check System
Jan 14, 2013


After the 2007 Virginia Tech massacre, Congress passed a law to keep guns out of the hands of the mentally ill.

The measure, signed by President George W. Bush, promised to strengthen the 14-year-old National Instant Criminal Background Check System by establishing incentives and penalties to prod states to submit records of people legally barred under federal law from buying guns — including those who had been committed to mental institutions.

That promise remains unfulfilled. More than half the states haven’t provided mental health records to the federal database that gun dealers use to check on buyers. And the gap in dealing with the mentally ill is just one of myriad problems that have hampered background checks.

After the Sandy Hook Elementary School killings last month in Newtown, Conn., improving that system has emerged as a major focus of the Obama administration’s plans for combating gun violence. Vice President Joe Biden, who could make recommendations to the president as soon as Tuesday, said he believes there is support for expansions to cover private gun sales, which make up much as 40 percent of all purchases but do not require background checks.

The history of the last change, the NICS Improvement Amendments Act, shows how difficult it will be to fix this broken system. Many states haven’t even begun to figure out which of their mentally ill residents should be included, or how to gather paper records from courthouses and mental hospitals. There is federal funding for the work, but not nearly enough.

Last year, after the Tucson shootings by a mentally ill Jared Lee Loughner, President Barack Obama acknowledged in an opinion column that the law “hasn’t been properly implemented.”

The background check system, which became effective in 1998, was part of a 1993 law that prohibits people from possessing guns if they were convicted of a felony, addicted to drugs, committed domestic violence or were involuntarily sent to mental institutions.

Gun rights organizations, including the National Rifle Association, have fought expansion of those checks. While the NRA says it supports making sure the names of “violent schizophrenics” are in the database, the group also made it tougher for states to comply — by successfully lobbying for a provision in the 2007 law that requires an appeals process so the mentally ill can seek to have their gun rights restored. States must set that up before they can receive federal grants to help collect records.

As many as 2 million mental health records are not in the system, the National Center for State Courts has found. Gun control advocates say plugging holes like that could be one of the most effective ways to stem gun violence.

“Having 2 million prohibited purchasers out there whose names are not in the background check database is a ticking time bomb,” said Mark Glaze, executive director of Mayors Against Illegal Guns.

Tighter standards in 2007 might have prevented the Virginia Tech shooter, Seung-hui Cho, from buying guns. He passed two background checks even though a judge had found him to be a danger to himself and ordered him to get mental health treatment. The state had interpreted the law to cover only in-patient treatment, so his name wasn’t submitted. Virginia has since changed those rules.

Loughner too was able to pass background checks despite mounting evidence of mental problems; he had not been involuntarily committed to an institution or convicted of crimes, the main triggers under the law.

The 2007 improvement act was supposed to speed development of the system by providing grants to states to help pay for hunting down records and setting up electronic databases. But Congress has handed out just a fraction of the grants allowed. Last year, $125 million was authorized under the law, but just $5 million was appropriated.

“The cost of making those changes far outweigh the grant money coming in,” said Carol Cha, acting director for homeland security and justice issues at the Government Accountability Office. “So states are having to make that difficult choice.”

There has been progress, though. The number of gun sales denied for mental health reasons increased from 365 in 2004 to 2,124 in 2011, according to FBI data, although that still accounts for less than 2 percent of all denials. And the database now has 1.2 million mental health records, up from about 200,000 in 2004.

But most of those records came from just 12 states, while nearly half the states have sent in just a handful of names, according to a July GAO report. “Most states have made little or no progress in providing these records,” the report said.

Federal agencies, such as the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Department of Defense, also have been slow to submit relevant records.

The obstacles start with confusion over who should be included. The law says the database should include people who have been judged “mentally defective.”

“Not only is that term highly offensive, it’s completely outdated,” said Ron Honberg, policy director at the National Alliance on Mental Illness. “I think there’s a lack of clarity, so states are all over the map on how to interpret it.”

In Alabama, for example, state officials decided to submit the names of people who had been involuntarily committed to institutions only when they’d also been found guilty of an “inappropriate use of firearms” or shown to be a threat to do so. That turned out to be just 243 people, according to a report by Mayors Against Illegal Guns.

Some states have delayed over worries about privacy concerns. Others have antiquated database systems or say they don’t have the money to provide the records.

In Idaho, state officials have just begun to submit mental health records to the database, 17,000 so far of an estimated 60,000. But it took the state four years to prepare, said Dawn Peck, manager of the Idaho State Police criminal identification bureau.

The first challenge was passing the state law and setting up the appeals process, she said. An early version said judges could restore gun rights if there was “clear and convincing” evidence that the person wasn’t a threat. Peck said the NRA thought that was too tough; the legislature set the bar lower, at a “preponderance” of evidence.

The NRA did not return calls seeking comment.

Once the law was passed, Peck said, the state began the laborious process of gathering two decades of files from county courthouses. “That’s probably the more cumbersome issue,” she said.

One huge hang-up: turning over the records is voluntary. The U.S. Department of Justice can penalize states that don’t participate by cutting other federal crime grants, but it has not done that.

“What the federal government does need to do,” Glaze said, “is enlarge both the carrots and the sticks necessary to get states to do the right thing.”

A proposed federal law, the Fix Gun Checks Act, aims to plug the holes in the system by making the checks apply to all gun sales and authorizing deep cuts in federal aid for states that don’t go along.

Pennsylvania is one of the states that hasn’t turned over any mental health records — even though some of the records are already in the state’s background check system. Republican state Rep. Todd Stephens, a former prosecutor, says the state Police have cited technical difficulties. He’s planning to submit a bill to speed the process.

“It ought to be a national initiative,” he said. “Barring a tragedy, we would have no way of knowing whether someone with a mental health history from Pennsylvania was buying a gun somewhere else.”


By Joseph Tanfani - Tribune Washington Bureau (MCT)

©2013 Tribune Co.

Visit Tribune Co. at www.latimes.com

Distributed by MCT Information Services



I am going to guess HIPPA laws are a detriment to the release of records into the system.


That is what I wondered.....If I have a mental illness, noone is allowed to talk about it. HIPPA prevents disclosure of information


Yea, d*mn those unintended consequences of bureaucratic "red tape."

More bureaucratic "red tape" will fix everything. :)

Brock Lee

ban goverment lol


we'll need our guns to do that!

Whiskey Tango F...

Proof once again that laws don't erase the problem. Feel good legislation is just an emotional knee jerk response that our elected officials use to pork barrel in some more raises, and federal funds to their region. How much money went into automotive racing aka nascar to make the fiscal cliff band-aid pass?

Cliff Cannon

@ Whiskey Tango F.... " " Proof once again that laws don't erase the problem " Excellant point.

Further,I would point to the historical precedents of other society's spinning out of control. Time and time again law after law was added to the books in an attempt to regain control of the people. Yet,to my knowledge,it never worked. ( Think Rome,Pre-revolution France,etc )

The truth of the matter, I believe is in the old cliche " keep it simple stupid " So personally,I believe a society needs about 11 laws ( 10 commandments & golden rule ,in our case)toss in a few laws for automobiles to drive by and your good to go.

However,punishment must be swift,if necessary harsh and most of all the "right's" of the law abiding people must come first.

To wit: When most of us were kids. When we misbehaved we were punished--instantly. No talking about. No trying to figure out why we were acting like morons. Just boom, we had violated the "rights " of others and then recieved our just 'reward'. Which we understood perfectly and in many if not most case's did not repeat our 'crime'

Ah,for the simpleness of times when common sense ruled and we didn't need lawyers to understand that our 'rights' as well as privilege's came from behaving,rather than misbehaving


Everyone talks of "mentally ill"? few and far between..the "temporary" mental state is much more of a threat to anyone at anytime. How ya'all gonna CONTROL that? Make life soooo simple and carefree, no one will ever get mad at anyone at anytime..then just legalized drugs and keep people mellow.. Just dumb.. everone thinks the gun is the problem

former local

Of course the NRA wants to make it easier for mentally ill people to get guns. Proof once again that they are in the pocket of gun manufacturers and not their membership!


Showing your liberal bias there Former Local.
What the NRA wanted is a way that when someone was cured they would have a means to regain their rights.
Even felones currently have recourse to regain their 2nd amendment rights through a certain prosess.

hit the road jack

Whats worse the mentally handicapped in washington being protected with guns or the mentally handicapped having guns?


It is about controlling us not about fixing the problem.
The same ones that want us to have background checks to exercise our GOD given right are the same ones that say it is racist to require showing your ID to vote!
Let anyone vote even if they already have or are not even a citizen but, restrict the exercise of the one amendment that guarantees that we can protect all of our rights as citizens
Here are a few quotes for you to ponder-

We should not forget that the spark which ignited the American Revolution was caused by the British attempt to confiscate the firearms of the colonists. - Patrick Henry

Suppose the Second amendment said "A well-educated electorate being necessary for self-governance in a free state, the right of the people to keep and read books shall not be infringed." Is there anyone who would suggest that means only registered voters have a right to read? – Robert Levy, Georgetown University professor

Laws that forbid the carrying of arms... disarm only those who are neither inclined nor determined to commit crimes... Such laws make things worse for the assaulted and better for the assailants; they serve rather to encourage than to prevent homicides, for an unarmed man may be attacked with greater confidence than an armed man. - Thomas Jefferson's "Commonplace Book," 1774-1776

Gun bans don't disarm criminals, gun bans attract them. – Walter Mondale

Gun control? It's the best thing you can do for crooks and gangsters. I want you to have nothing. If I'm a bad guy, I'm always gonna have a gun. Safety locks? You will pull the trigger with a lock on, and I'll pull the trigger. We'll see who wins. – Sammy "The Bull" Gravano, whose testimony convicted John Gotti

When the resolution of enslaving America was formed in Great Britain, the British Parliament was advised by an artful man, who was governor of Pennsylvania, to disarm the people; that it was the best and most effectual way to enslave them; but that they should not do it openly, but weaken them, and let them sink gradually...I ask, who are the militia? They consist of now of the whole people, except a few public officers. But I cannot say who will be the militia of the future day. If that paper on the table gets no alteration, the militia of the future day may not consist of all classes, high and low, and rich and poor... - George Mason, Virginia Constitution Convention


So what is going to happen when all these states who are having a knee jerk reaction and our president who is once again abusing his powers....all get their way on gun control.....AND...another mass murder happens involving guns? You know it will happen....sadly. Who will they blame then. What new gun laws will they come up with then? If you do not stop them now, they will pick away at our rights until we have nothing left. I just hope it never comes to the point where they come door to door trying to take guns away.


We are headed to a civil war/revolution if Obama keeps going this way.
Disarming populations has resulted in the worst massacres in history:
1911 – Turkey disarmed its citizens, and between 1915 – 1917 they murdered 1.5 million Armenians.
1929 – Russia disarmed its citizens, and between 1929 – 1953 they murdered 20 million Russians.
1935 – China disarmed its citizens, and between 1948 – 1952 they murdered 20 million Chinese.
1938 – Germany disarmed its citizens, and between 1939 – 1945 they murdered 16 million Jews.
1956 – Cambodia disarmed its citizens, and between 1975 – 1977 they murdered 1 million Educated people.
1964 – Guatemala disarmed its citizens, and between 1964 – 1981 they murdered 100,000 Mayan Indians.
1970 – Uganda disarmed its citizens, and between 1971 – 1979 they murdered 300,000 Christians.
And for a reference more people can understand-
From: Ed Chenel, A police officer in Australia

It has now been 12 months since gun owners in Australia were forced by a new law to
surrender 640,381 personal firearms to be destroyed by our own government, a program costing Australia taxpayers more than $500 million dollars.

The first year results are now in:
Australia-wide, homicides are up 6.2 percent;
Australia-wide, assaults are up 9.6 percent;
Australia-wide, armed robberies are up 44 percent (yes, 44 percent)!

In the state of Victoria alone, homicides with firearms are now up 300 percent.(Note that while the law-abiding citizens turned them in, the criminals did not and criminals still possess their guns!).

While figures over the previous 25 years showed a steady decrease in armed robbery with firearms, this has changed drastically upward in the past 12 months, since the criminals now are guaranteed that their prey is unarmed.

There has also been a dramatic increase in break-ins and assaults of the elderly, while the resident is at home.

Australian politicians are at a loss to explain how public safety has decreased, after such monumental effort and expense was expended in 'successfully ridding Australian society of guns....' You won't see this on the American evening news or hear your governor or members of the State Assembly disseminating this information.

The Australian experience speaks for itself. Guns in the hands of honest citizens save lives and property and, yes, gun-control laws affect only the law-abiding citizens.

hit the road jack

Don't forget the 2000 people killed in Australia confiscating the guns including the "real" crocodile dundee.

Cliff Cannon

@ Propman & hit the road jack : I found both your thought's here extremely interesting. I also must confess,I find Australia's experiment in gun control very disturbing.

Here's hoping D.C. law makers read your comments.

hit the road jack

Cliff: I really don't think they care,all the goons want is an unarmed citizen,then only the thugs can shoot someone.Not only that,once they have you disarmed they can tell you to eat a bucket of crap and what you gonna say?

Cliff Cannon

@ hit the road jack : Well one can not argue, that a disarmed nation could be told what to eat.( sure don't sound good :)

Thing is,how can the federal gov't possibly even come close to disarming our nation ? If one just looks at the amount of registered hunters in say; Ohio,Michigan,Pennsylvania and Wisconsin for example. You'll find what 2 or 2.5 MILLION hunters in those 4 states alone.( Which of course,makes them about the 3rd. largest "army" in the world.)

How is anyone going to get their guns ? Then toss in the hunters from the other 46 states and you get how many gun owning citizens ? All a ban on guns would do in my opinion is drive company's out of business. Increase theft's from the homes of gun owners. Which in turn would create a bigger 'black market' in guns. All of which, is not the least bit helpful for the problem,is it ?

So being a bit slow about the brain. I for one,need the " keep it simple stupid " world of laws. Give me about 10 of them. Punish me swiftly,as well when needed, harshly and I promise you,you'll have no problems from me. ( Now multiply "me" by 300 million American's and I'll bet with in a decade 'gun problems' will decrease tremendously)


This may help you see things-
"The greatest danger to American freedom is a government that ignores the Constitution."
Thomas Jefferson Third President of the United States
Obama seems determined to prove that quote!

"The people never give up their liberties but under some delusion."
Edmund Burke
British Statesman, 1784
NOW Obama has created the delusion he thinks will allow him to limit our rights.
We need to show him that he is delusioned.

Cliff Cannon

@ Propman: " This may help you see things " Respectfully,I do "see things" and point to my first comment on this article where I write of prior society's attempting to regain control of their people by piling law after law on.

And then remind who ever read that comment that ---- extra laws will not work. Then add,what I believe will do the trick : "Keep it simple stupid " laws ( like the 10 commandments) where the criminal is punished swiftly as well as needed---harshly.

My own opinion is that extra laws are on par with trying to explain "things " to a misbehaving 3 year old. The 3 year old ----understands completely--- a spank on the bottom,which normally ends their " crime problem ". While trying to "reason" ,"understand " and " rehabilatate" a misbehaving 3 year old only confuses the issue.

Further,in my second response I simply state that trying to get America's guns away from the people, is litterally impossible. And would in fact,as mentioned, lead to a whole nother set of problems.

Bottom line: No law will work,if the society lacks civility,self-discipline,responsibilty and respect for others. Which is the real American problems today.Hopefully, this comment " may help you to see things " as I do. Guns aren't the problem. What is needed is to get control of the bad guys first and foremost. And the only way to do that. Is through swift, as well as harsh punishments

hit the road jack

Cliff: I heard a woman call in to this talk show (radio) about 6 month's ago where out north of St. Louis they had military personel and equipment driving up and down the streets and she said 5 of them beat on her door,when she opened it they came in,ransacked her house looking for firearms or other illegal things and left,she also stated that homes that were reposesed on her street were blown up by tanks and left it look like a battlefield,i'd hate to see them do that without someone getting hurt in my neighborhood.

Cliff Cannon

@ hit the road jack : Wow ! That is one unique story. Wonder,why she was singled out for such treatment. Did she say ?

Still, this story points out just how hard it would be for the federal gov't to disarm America. Multiply this home by all the homes in America and you can see just how hard,if not impossible it would be to disarm this country.

Further,I'd add that since the gun tamed this land. That Anatoly France had a point when he sadly noted ;" that no " God " emerged from North America's marriage to man as it did on other continents. The Indians had " Manitou " yet,no guns.So Manitou walks the plains alone in search of the 'White Buffalo'. The ' God' of the Americans has always been......the gun "

There is a ton of paraphrasing there, Jack. But you see Mr. France makes a heck of a point,doesn't he ?

P.S. If gun control worked. Wouldn't Chicago be America's safest city,rather than it's most dangerous ?

hit the road jack

Cliff: This woman wasn't the only one singled out,she said they went up and down the street to other homes too,police officers called in too to express their concerns because this was done and they were supposedly told to stand down and do nothing,these guys were on their own to do as they pleased,they drove around the loop(I-265) in jeeps and armored vehicles(I can only imagine what the locals were thinking) hell,did you see last summer where their were either 500 or 800 troops in cleveland? I seen it,never heard anything after words but I heard the mayor of Cleveland tell that they would be in town for the weekend and doesn't expect any problems. Its been a year or so I heard they had this in Denver,they loaded kids up on busses and took them to the stadium and did drills,they wouldn't let the media in so who knows what all went on.

hit the road jack

Mr. France did have a great point and yes Chicago would be the safest city in America if they (Emanuel) could paint the picture,did you hear of the Chicago city councilman that got busted trying to board a plane in Chicago with a HANDGUN? pretty bold of him huh?and that was just a month or so ago.

Cliff Cannon

@ hit the road jack : Those story's regarding the use of troops sure were weird or strange or scary or all the above. I certainly,can't understand using American troops in American city's.( short of a riot).

Got one more reminder for you to ease your mind regarding the federal gov't taking away America's guns : Prohibition. Remember how well the federal gov't did at getting rid of booze ? :)

hit the road jack

Your absolutely correct on the prohibition part! what about all the drugs that somehow make it across our borders or for that fact,all the illegals,not just people from Mexico,I mean everywhere. I remember my old man telling me about all the times they would take model T's across lake erie in the winter time to get booze from Canada,he said their's all kind of model T's on the bottom of lake erie from not making it back loaded.

hit the road jack

They done a test out in Iowa a couple years ago to test the reaction of the civilians and the entered many homes,don't remember how many guns they confiscated,a lot of our military people know whats going on and govt. knows they can't send our military to confiscate the guns,their going to use foreign troops to do it and boy I pitty them.


It amazes me that the politicians pushing more gun controls and groups supporting them are the same ones that want abortions for any reason at any time.
In the US we have an average over 3,200 abortions a day,That equals 160+ Sandy hook shootings a day
Having the government register firearms owners, is like having the fox guard the hen house.
The founding fathers knew better!
That is why it says "the RIGHT of the PEOPLE to KEEP and BEAR ARMS shall NOT BE INFRINGED