|FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE|
June 10, 2011
Five Months after Tucson Shootings, Most States and Federal Agencies Still Fail to Report Mental Health Records to National Gun Background Check Database
New Data Show Twenty-Five States Have Submitted Fewer than 100 Mental Health Records; Six Have Reported Zero
New government data that show most states are still failing to send records about seriously mentally ill people to the gun background check database five months after the Tucson shootings exposed serious gaps in the national do-not-sell list.
According to FBI documents describing the composition of the database on April 30, 2011, a handful of states have dramatically increased the number of records they have submitted to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) since August 31 of last year. But millions of records of criminals, drug abusers and domestic violence offenders are still missing from the database because of lax reporting by state agencies. These categories of individuals are among those prohibited by federal law from purchasing or possessing firearms.
“The background check system has stopped hundreds of thousands of illegal gun purchases over the past decade,” said coalition co-chair and New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, “but too many dangerous people are slipping through the cracks. It’s incredible that five months after Tucson, the system is still missing millions of records. Every day, 34 people continue to be murdered, and many of those innocent victims might have been saved.”
The data show that 25 states and the District of Columbia have submitted fewer than 100 mental health records to the system. Nineteen states have submitted fewer than ten records, and six have submitted none.
Federal agencies are also required to report records on prohibited purchasers to the NICS system, but most are still not doing so.
“Tucson shocked the nation, and yet five months later, most states and federal agencies are still failing to do the bare minimum to protect public safety,” said coalition co-chair and Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino. “We need full participation in the gun background check system to help reduce the epidemic of gun murders in this country. Those murders include at least 23 law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty this year by prohibited purchasers – many of whom might have been saved by a more complete database.”
Jared Loughner, the Tucson shooter, acknowledged habitual drug use when he attempted to enlist in the U.S. Army, and reportedly failed a drug test. Both facts rendered him ineligible to possess firearms under current law, but the Army did not report the information to NICS.
In 2007, Seung Hui Cho shot and killed 32 people at Virginia Tech before taking his own life. Cho had been found to be a danger to himself by a special justice of the Montgomery County District Court in Virginia. The records of the case were never forwarded to NICS, and Cho passed several gun background checks in the months leading up to the mass shooting.
State NICS Reporting
According to a previous Mayors Against Illegal Guns report released after the Tucson shootings, the NICS index contained 864,962 state-submitted mental health records on August 2010. That number had increased by 23 percent to 1,062,111 records as of April 2011, according to the new data.
Despite significant improvement, the database is still far from complete. The number of prohibiting mental health records that belong in the system could be as high as 2.7 million, based on congressional estimates of the number of Americans who have been involuntarily committed to mental institutions.
The new data underscore that state laws mandating or permitting record sharing tend to improve a state’s performance, as does federal funding:
- State record-sharing policies. Of the ten states with the greatest number of mental health record submissions per capita, eight have adopted laws or policies that mandate or permit the sharing of mental health records with NICS.  Among the ten states with the fewest mental health records per capita in the NICS Index, eight have failed to adopt similar policies.
- Federal grant assistance. Of the ten states with the greatest per capita increases in mental health record submissions between August 2010 and April 2011, three were among the eight recipients of Fiscal Year 2010 NICS Act Record Improvement Program (NARIP) grants, including Texas, Wisconsin and Illinois. NARIP is a federal program and the largest source of funding to support record sharing with NICS.
The chart below details records submitted to NICS by each state. For each state, the chart includes the total records submitted as of August 31, 2010 (the data reported by Mayors Against Illegal Guns in January 2011), the total records submitted as of April 30, 2011 and the total records submitted by each state per capita.Improvements from August 2010 to April 2011: The ten states with the greatest per capita improvement between August 2010 and April 2011 have all adopted relevant reporting laws or policies.
Below is a state-by-state breakdown of the total increase in records submitted from August 2010 to April 2011 and the total increase in record submission per capita.
Like states, federal agencies report prohibiting records into NICS. Unlike states, they are required by law to do so. The NICS Improvement Amendments Act (NIAA) passed in the wake of Virginia Tech requires all federal agencies – including the military – to provide “any record of any person” who is prohibited from purchasing firearms to the database.
Despite this mandate, some parts of the federal government do not share substance abuse reports with NICS as a matter of policy. During the Clinton administration, then-Attorney General Janet Reno issued a memorandum exempting the Department of Defense from providing information about military recruits who failed drug tests. The policy has apparently remained in place even after passage of the NIAA law, and may account for the absence of Jared Loughner’s drug records in the NICS index at the time of his first gun purchase.
Three months after the Tucson shooter – who should have been rejected by the NICS system, but was not – shot and killed six people and injured thirteen others, the vast majority of federal agencies are still not submitting records.
- According to new FBI data as of March 31, 2011, the Department of Defense and its military departments – the Air Force, Army, Navy and Marine Corps – have not submitted any substance abuse records into NICS.
- Agencies and departments of the federal government have submitted a total of 9,749 substance abuse records into NICS. This represents an increase of 8,619 records since March 2010, but most of the new records came from just one source, the Court Services and Offenders Supervision Agency (CSOSA), which serves only the District of Columbia.
- Federal reporting of mental health records to NICS showed slight improvement. The agencies have reported 130,582 records, a six percent increase since March 2010. The vast majority were submitted by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
The Fix Gun Checks Act of 2011
Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) and Rep. Carolyn McCarthy recently introduced the Fix Gun Checks Act of 2011 (S.436/H.R.1781), legislation that would make vital improvements to the national gun background checks system. The legislation was crafted after the Tucson shootings by the Mayors Against Illegal Guns coalition.
First, the Fix Gun Checks Act would require a background check for every gun sale, including sales that take place at guns shows, over the internet and through classified ads. The bill would require private sellers to verify, either with local law enforcement or through certified gun dealers, that the person they are selling to is not on the national do-not-sell list.
Second, the Fix Gun Checks Act would impose tougher penalties on states that do not comply with laws that require them to send their records on prohibited purchasers to the NICS system.
In addition, federal agencies would be required to certify to the U.S. Attorney General twice every year that they have submitted all relevant records to the NICS database.
About Mayors Against Illegal Guns
Since its inception in April 2006, Mayors Against Illegal Guns has grown from 15 mayors to more than 550. The coalition has united the nation’s mayors around these common goals: protecting their communities by holding gun offenders and irresponsible gun dealers accountable; demanding access to trace data that is critical to law enforcement efforts to combat illegal gun trafficking; and working with legislators to fix gaps, weaknesses and loopholes in the law that make it far too easy for criminals and other prohibited purchasers to get guns.
Download the charts
 California, Connecticut, Colorado, Missouri, Texas, New York, Virginia, and Washington have all adopted laws or policies that mandate or permit the sharing of mental health records with NICS.
 Idaho and Oregon have adopted laws or policies that mandate or permit the sharing of mental health records with NICS.
 Connecticut, Colorado, Illinois, Missouri, North Carolina, Texas, Virginia, Washington, Wisconsin, and West Virginia have all adopted laws or policies that mandate or permit the sharing of mental health records with NICS.
|Contact: ||Mayor Bloomberg's Press Office ||(212) 788-2958|
|Mayor Menino's Press Office ||(617) 635-4461|